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MBTA union says bus outsourcing plan has ‘failed’

Bus maintenance employees and supporters rallied outside the MBTA’s Lynn garage in August, in opposition to an attempt to privatize operations.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority mechanics say just one company has bid on a major privatization contract — the outsourcing of bus repairs to private contractors.

The T put the contract out to bid earlier this year, saying the agency could save up to $12 million a year if a private company ran some of the garages. But a coalition of several MBTA unions, which includes the mechanics, said Monday that the outsourcing initiative did not attract “enough private bidders to ensure a legitimate or competitive bidding process,” and had “essentially failed.”

The MBTA would not confirm or deny the union’s contention. General manager Luis Ramirez said at a T board meeting Monday that he would not comment on specifics of the bidding process, “to ensure the integrity of this process.”


The bid deadline was in late September, but the T has not set a date to award the contract. Ramirez said the process has so far given the T new “baseline” information, which the agency can use “to produce a more cost-effective and efficient bus maintenance operation that will benefit both the ridership and the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.”

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack also declined to elaborate further.

The unions identified the lone bidder as First Transit, which shares ownership with Greyhound Bus Lines. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The outsourcing plan calls for eliminating about one-fifth of the public-sector jobs, and requires that the winning bidder give hiring preference to those workers who were laid off.

The agency has a three-pronged approach to bringing bus maintenance costs way down after they hit $132 million in fiscal 2016. In addition to the privatization, other savings are expected from a new contract with the mechanics’ union, the Machinists Union Local 264, and from other changes in work rules.


But the union mechanics have pushed back, collecting support from elected officials and running a public relations campaign targeting Governor Charlie Baker. The mechanics say contract negotiations and work-rule changes could produce more effective savings.

Some advocates of outsourcing aren’t ready to throw in the towel. At the board meeting, Greg Sullivan, research director for the right-leaning Pioneer Institute, said it has become common among US transit agencies to have private companies maintain buses.

Sullivan said the T should act urgently, because a three-year waiver from the state law that limits outsourcing ends next summer and is unlikely to be renewed.

“If you don’t do it now, it probably will never happen,” Sullivan said.

Also Monday, the T’s board approved a $59 million contract to replace the commuter rail drawbridge in Gloucester, in place since 1932. The replacement will be staged over four years, forcing shutdowns on the Rockport Line on 10 weekends during that time. Another drawbridge on the same line, in Beverly, was closed for weeks this summer for replacement work.

And the board approved a $21 million contract to convert Track 61, an old rail line through South Boston to the Seaport District, into a test track for the incoming new Red Line fleet.

That project has been met with some neighborhood resistance, including from abutters who worry about noise and dust.

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamtvaccaro.