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TARC workers’ union protests Louisville’s looming bus service, driver cuts

People holding signs that say "PROTECT UNION JOBS" and "FUND PUBLIC TRANSIT" stand on a street car near a passing public bus.
Jacob Munoz
A TARC driver and a supporter of ATU 1447 rally next to a bus stop near city hall in downtown Louisville on May 1, 2024.

Bus drivers and union leaders with ATU Local 1447 rallied in downtown Louisville Wednesday against TARC’s proposed budget cuts. They’re asking city and state leaders to help save jobs and route frequency.

The union representing Louisville’s public transit workers wants local and state officials to add millions in funding for TARC.

It says that money could prevent the agency from following through on its plan to lay off bus drivers and scale back service starting next January on a majority of routes. TARC is facing an operating budget deficit as large as $30 million by mid-2026 and its board has proposed $34 million in cuts over the next two years.

Mayor Craig Greenberg said he supports a proposal to have Jefferson County Public Schools hire laid off TARC drivers to help fill the district’s school bus driver shortage.

A crowd of ATU Local 1447 members and supporters gathered at Jefferson Square Park on Wednesday to rally against the cuts impacting TARC drivers and riders. The practice picket coincided with May Day, also known as International Labor/Workers’ Day.

A group of protesters holding signs in support of public transit workers
Jacob Munoz
ATU 1447 members and supporters rally in downtown Louisville for increased TARC funding on May 1, 2024.

Union president Lillian Brents said at the event that her group has repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of funding and blames both TARC leadership and city officials for the agency’s problems.

“Due to lack of leadership, or lack of the efforts made to update the funding structures, that’s why we're in this particular situation,” Brents said.

The agency has been struggling financially for a while. Steve Miller, who chairs the TARC board’s finance committee, told Louisville Metro Council members last month the agency has been putting capital funds — meant for uses like replacing equipment — into its operating budget to fill deficits for the past two decades.

The union expects 60-80 bus drivers will be let go, though TARC leaders have not yet offered any estimates. It also said the agency estimates $14 million is needed to divert these cuts. A TARC spokesperson did not confirm that figure.

While the agency could try different ways to secure new revenue, it would need Metro Council to take action and city lawmakers have appeared hesitant to provide that money. State lawmakers already passed the budget for the next two years.

A majority of TARC’s funding comes from a slice of Louisville’s occupational tax, set at 2.2% on city workers’ paychecks. While both agency and union leaders have recognized the need for changes to TARC’s funding structure, city lawmakers would need to approve any tax revisions.

“We are asking the constituents, we are asking our members, we are asking other unions: get in touch with your [Metro Council] members,” Brents said.

Leslie Williams, who’s been a TARC driver for about 15 years, said at the rally that the cuts would negatively impact people around the city.

“People are not going to be able to get to work, they're not going to be able to get home. You know, it's going to be a struggle, not just for us, but for the public. They're the main concern,” Williams said.

He added that agency’s financial struggles will ultimately come down on drivers.

“We're having to take the [brunt] of the cuts, because of something that had nothing to do with us. All we did was come to work every day,” Williams said.

As it considers cuts, TARC is preparing to begin a system redesign process this summer called TARC 2025, using $1.2 million in federal grant money. In a press release last month, the agency said that process will incorporate public feedback and could help address the budget gap.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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