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MBTA moves toward privatizing some bus routes

Some MBTA bus lines could be privatized under a plan the transit authority is exploring.Globe file

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is exploring the privatization of more than two dozen bus routes, a move that the president of the T’s largest union says amounts to a “betrayal” from Governor Charlie Baker’s administration.

James O’Brien, the president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, said he was briefed by T officials last week on forthcoming plans to request information from outside companies on running about 30 of the T’s current bus routes. The targeted routes would include late-night service lines, lines with low ridership, and some express lines, according to O’Brien.

The plan would be one of the administration’s first major attempts to transform the beleaguered transit agency, which was slammed by relentless weather during this year’s winter, Boston’s snowiest on record.


Michael Verseckes, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said that outsourcing bus routes would help the T become more cost-effective.

“Savings realized through these measures can be reinvested in the system as we work to implement the Baker Administration’s plan to fix the MBTA,” Verseckes wrote in an e-mail.

Baker has been open about his plans to outsource some of the T’s work.

But O’Brien said he was angry and frustrated about the possibility of privatizing the routes, saying workers are now worried about their jobs and livelihoods.

“This is our work, and the governor thinks it’s OK to just give that out?” he said.

He pointed to Baker’s testimony at a legislative hearing, in which Baker said he does not want to privatize the T, slash services, or lay off hundreds of workers — he just wants to fix the embattled agency.

“It’s a betrayal,” O’Brien said. “The governor has said ‘No privatization, no cuts in service, no layoffs,’ and here he is, privatizing.”

When Baker lobbied for legislation that would address the T, he and his transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, repeatedly asked the Democratic-controlled Legislature to suspend the so-called Pacheco law, which puts up hurdles to outsourcing public services to non-union workers.


Lawmakers approved a budget in July that granted Baker that victory, temporarily suspending the Pacheco law for three years. Baker has publicly said he would use the law judiciously, and has mentioned late-night service as one of the possible targets.

The T currently runs about 170 bus routes, with about 1,550 bus operators, according to T officials.

Tim Buckley, a spokesman for the governor, said the plans are consistent with what the governor has planned to do with the T, and are designed to “improve service” and “provide more public transit options.”

In the past, Baker has said he will target routes such as late-night service, which draws fewer riders and has been a higher cost to subsidize. The T started a one-year late-night service pilot in March 2014, then later extended it.

According to a review of the late-night service pilot from earlier this year, the bus routes serve a smaller number of passengers overall. Of the average 26,961 boardings that were measured for the first 41 weeks, about 4,335 — or 16 percent — used the bus.

Any proposals would likely go in front of the newly created fiscal and management control board, which has been tasked with bringing the T into good financial shape. That board’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.