AC Transit outsourcing Oakland call center to Connecticut

By Reginald James Editor

If you call AC Transit’s Customer Relations for a question or a complaint, don’t be surprised to hear someone with a New England accent.

AC Transit plans on outsourcing its local Telephone Information Center to Connecticut based American Customer Care starting next month. The center is currently located at the District’s downtown Oakland headquarters.

“We can save about a million dollars by outsourcing,” said Kathleen Kelly, chief operating officer of the proposal. The projected costs for an internal staff are almost $1.3 million dollars, while the contact services would be under $300,000, according to documents.

AC Transit recently declared a fiscal emergency for the second time in two years due to a projected $56 million deficit.

A 60 day transitional period will take place from September through October, although it was anticipated that the call center would be in place already.

“We originally thought we’d have this together for July,” Kelly said. “Because we are not going to be able to do that, we still have current costs.” The delay and blended cost of internal staff and contract services will result in AC Transit going over its 2010/2011 budget.

AC Transit also acknowledges the loss of “market knowledge,” with the transition. Private call center employees in Connecticut will not know geography as well as current staff.

“This is less a concern as it would have been in the past since there’s Google Earth,” Kelly said. The call center will rely on technology like, Next Bus and Google Transit to assist riders. Still, the lack of familiarity will be a loss for AC Transit.

“Some of our people were operators. So they are able to say, “Remember where that old Chevron station was?’ That kind of knowledge, they (new call center) won’t be able to pick up,” Kelly said.

What will happen to the 14 people currently working in AC Transit’s Information Center?

“They would be laid off,” Kelly said. “Many of them are eligible for retirement. Many have already done that, or are planning to do so before October.”

This includes 13 information clerks and one supervisor. All of the clerks are members of AC Transit’s largest union, ATU, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192. ATU is currently in a labor dispute with management after the District voted to impose a contract in July. A judge ordered AC Transit to return to its previous work rules last week.

This move does not relate to the current labor dispute, Kelly said, as outsourcing the center was contemplated over a year ago.

Other companies that applied for the contract include Nebraska-based EMS, Inc.; Verizon and France’s multinational company Veolia.

The new call center will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

AC Transit will hold a Special Meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, August 18 (PDF) at its downtown Oakland headquarters at 1600 Franklin Street.

Editor's Note: Reginald James interned at AC Transit in the External Affairs Department from 2008-2010. He was laid off in May due to budget cuts.

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