At least 15 laid-off bus drivers are going back behind the wheel of the public vehicles that they used to run.
But in their new jobs, they will shuttle visitors to and from Disney theme parks — all paid by Disney.
For its new parking lot that opens Friday, Disney arranged to hire some laid-off drivers and lease public buses that were out-of service because of budget cuts by the Orange County Transportation Authority.
George Kalogridis, the Disneyland Resort president, got the idea after reading about cutbacks at the transportation agency. He knew that Disney was about to contract for shuttles for the upcoming lot on Harbor Boulevard, so he asked his staff to look into using OCTA’s buses and possibly their out-of-work drivers.
“We had a need. There was an opportunity,” Kalogridis said.
As a result, 15 drivers, including Jasdeep Singh, have been hired so far and 20 OCTA buses were leased for the new shuttle route.
“They got experienced drivers and drivers got work,” said Singh, who lost his job in September 2008 after eight months as a driver. “Hopefully, this relationship continues and we both get to grow.”
OCTA will receive about $22,000 a month in lease payments for the 40-passenger buses, said Joel Zlotnik, an OCTA spokesman. In the past two years, the agency has let go of 170 drivers. This fiscal year, the agency is facing a $30-million revenue shortfall.
“It’s a great way to get some revenue from buses that otherwise would not be used,” Zlotnik said.
Disney is leasing the vehicles and hiring the drivers through Anaheim Resort Transit – the public organization that runs the red trolleys and other vehicles in the Disney area.
Resort Transit gave hiring preference to the former public bus drivers, because they are familiar with OCTA vehicles, said Diana Kotler, executive director of Anaheim Resort Transit.
Resort Transit has hired 15 laid-off drivers for 32 of the filled spots so far. About 18 open positions remain. The jobs are part-time for now, but they could become full-time.
The OCTA sent letters to its former employees to inform them about the new jobs. Some responded and got hired within days.
The new job is a relief for Tameka Calloway and Alex Sierra, both former OCTA drivers who have been unemployed since April.
Since then, Calloway, 30, got evicted and lost her car. Living off of child-support payments recently, she and her two children are living with Calloway’s mother, who is charging rent. Calloway now hopes to buy her own car.
“It gives us an opportunity to get back on the road and use our skills,” said Sierra, 37. “Work is what we need.”
The parking lot on Harbor Boulevard south of Katella Avenue is set to open Friday after a 7:30 a.m. grand-opening ceremony. The lot sits across the street from the Anaheim Convention Center. Read more about the new Disney parking lot.
Photos by Joshua Sudock, the Orange County Register. Map by Brian Moore, Orange County Register