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COTA Board Finalizes Three-Year Contract

While the new contract provides lump sum payments and modest salary increases to COTA bus drivers and mechanics, they'll now pay more for their health benefits. That includes paying a portion of medical premiums, larger deductibles and copayments. The contract will save the company $5.24 million over the next three years, according to Lhota. Add in savings from service cutbacks and the increased fares that passengers begin paying next month, and the company, Lhota says, will be out of a three-year deficit next year.

"Fortunately in 2006, we are projecting just south of a $3 million dollar revenue over expenses due to the 75-thousand-hour reduction in service hours the fare increases that we have approved and will go into place January 1 and now having certainty around the labor contract," Lohta says.

The new contract helps slow the growth of COTA salaries which are now above the industry average. Even so, Lhota says COTA is still far from being able to replace its aging bus fleet. But Board President Bill Porter says today's contract ratification could mean a turn-around for the company.

"Accomplishing a new employment agreement is one of those challenges that we've now successfully achieved. It gives us a springboard to trying to make this authority into a more nimble, responsive, reliable transit company for the citizens of central Ohio," said Porter.

COTA has been operating several million dollars in the red since 2003. The company will release its 2006 bus schedules tomorrow. Sam Hendren, WOSU News