The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority pays a number of top managers nearly 25 percent less than comparable transit agencies, a disparity officials say has made it difficult to attract and retain strong candidates.
Steven Poftak, a member of the board that oversees the MBTA, said Monday the agency must bring in talented leaders to manage nearly $6.5 billion in projects over the next five years.
“We cannot skimp on management for that,” Poftak said. “We can’t be saving money in $10,000 to $15,000 chunks and allow the $6.5 billion spending program to not be spent properly.”
The MBTA has already begun boosting salaries for several key hires. Last week, the agency announced it would pay the new project manager of the Green Line $280,000 a year, along with more than $57,000 in lieu of benefits and up to $45,000 in bonuses.
The Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, one of the state’s most powerful business groups, has also expressed interest in putting money toward recruiting and training employees, such as subsidizing moving expenses for new hires and travel expenses for candidates.
By comparing the salaries for several top MBTA positions to similar ones at seven other transit agencies, Poftak underlined the extent of the pay gap. For example, the MBTA’s general manager makes about $175,000, compared to an average of $313,000 at the other agencies. (The MBTA, however, created a second “chief administrator” role designed to work alongside the general manager; Brian Shortsleeve is currently filling both roles).
At other positions, the gap was narrower. The MBTA’s chief operating officer makes about $210,000, compared to a $225,000 average at other agencies. The MBTA’s director of signals makes about $117,000, while other agencies pay about $150,000.
The move to increase pay will be controversial. The agency has pushed to privatize some departments and has presented data showing that salaries for its bus drivers are among the highest in the country. The MBTA has also come under criticism after its contracted cleaning companies reduced staff and cut back workers’ hours, which has spurred janitors to protest at most board meetings.
A consultant for the agency has recommended hiring seven key leaders to complete the Green Line extension. All would earn more than $175,000, Poftak said. The MBTA will soon issue a request for proposals on a compensation study that will compare salaries within the agency and with other transit agencies.