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Many O.C. bus drivers are back at the wheel

The OCTA vows to restore full service by Friday. Through Thursday, rides are free.

July 18, 2007|Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writer

Hundreds of Orange County bus drivers were back on the job Tuesday, with the familiar whoosh of passing buses gradually returning to the streets after a nine-day strike.

The Orange County Transportation Authority had asked the drivers to return to their scheduled routes Monday at noon, but only 35 showed up, said OCTA spokesman Ted Nguyen.

By late Tuesday, 784 drivers out of 1,100 had reported to work.

Buses were rumbling along normal routes at 75% of their pre-strike numbers. Each of the system's 81 routes had at least one bus operating, Nguyen said, and officials were focusing on restoring full service to the most heavily traveled corridors first.

"Service will be spotty, but our goal is to ramp up very quickly," he said.

The strike ended Monday after the OCTA and the bus drivers union ratified a new contract.

Rides are free through Thursday "as a small token of our appreciation for their sacrifice," Nguyen said.

Officials have pledged to restore full service by Friday, when they will once again begin charging fares.

OCTA employees were stationed at the county's transit centers Tuesday to help riders identify available buses, Nguyen said.

The new contract will give drivers pay raises ranging from 10.8% to 11.7% over three years, depending on their levels of experience.

Both sides applauded the new contract but regretted the strike's heavy toll on the county's 225,000 daily bus riders who have been carpooling, biking or walking.

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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