State representative, Newbury Republican
After years of mismanagement and neglect, the financially plagued MBTA is burdened with waste and inefficiency. As recently as 2015, it was projecting a cost growth rate that was three times the amount of revenues. Of the $132 million spent on bus maintenance in fiscal 2016, nearly $100 million was for labor.
Bankrolled by T riders and taxpayers, the MBTA had the highest vehicle maintenance per hour costs of bus operation of six comparable transit agencies in 2015, according to a new report from the Pioneer Institute.
At $44.30 per hour, MBTA bus maintenance costs were 65 percent higher than the $26.82 average of the nation’s 25 largest public transit agencies that year. Clearly, we can do better. Thankfully, bus maintenance privatization offers the MBTA an opportunity to address some runaway expenses.
The proposal to privatize bus operations is not a scheme to “bust unions,” nor a “race to the bottom” that drives down wages and harms working conditions. The plan simply allows for private companies to allow MBTA cost savings through increased flexibility and lower staffing, while still employing union machinists working under their collective bargaining contracts.
For instance, T supervisors are prohibited from turning wrenches, leaving them unable to assist machinists. In a private company, “working supervisors” would be free to work alongside machinists when needed.
Maintenance privatization is hardly a revolutionary idea. Our Regional Transit Authorities — two of which operate in Greater Lowell and through much of the Merrimack Valley — have had private companies service buses for years. Their costs are much lower. While the T’s total cost per revenue hour is $56, RTAs hover around $31, with the Worcester RTA at $25.
The T outsourced overhauls on 190 buses in 2012. The agency found that doing the work in-house cost 50 percent more than shipping buses to Michigan. Recently, the T outsourced cash-handling to Brinks, cutting costs by two-thirds; Brinks runs nearly 15 percent under the $300,000 monthly contract.
While bringing costs under control cannot be accomplished overnight, outsourcing certain operations will move us closer. A focused and efficient transportation agency, combined with reinvested cost savings, means better service at a lower cost.
Everett resident, fueler at MBTA bus maintenance garage in Lynn
I was excited to earn a job as a fueler at the Lynn garage in January 2015 because I knew it meant I could have a career path. My goal is to become an MBTA mechanic and save money to buy a house some day.
I want to help my community by repairing our transportation system and keeping my friends, family, and neighbors safe when they ride the bus.
It’s disappointing Governor Charlie Baker is trying to destroy my dreams of having a real career path by outsourcing my job. And for what? He claims privatization will save money, but it usually ends up costing taxpayers more. I’m really concerned for my colleagues who have kids. They are good people. One colleague just had twins and one who has a baby girl. Governor Baker and other privatization devotees want to take food out of those children’s mouths.
The experienced people I know at the Lynn garage aren’t going to work for these private companies for the peanuts they will offer. The MBTA is going to lose these skilled employees. Buses will be less safe. I want experienced people doing the safety and maintenance work on MBTA buses, and I want to be one of those people.
Despite what you might have heard from the Pioneer Institute and other privatization advocates, the MBTA maintenance workers are not overpaid. Our mechanics are paid just 3 percent above the national average when adjusted for cost of living. The training process is rigorous and rightly so. We are responsible for keeping riders safe and we take that obligation very seriously.
Our buses are safe and break down less than any other major transit system in the United States. The mechanics, fuelers, and technicians within Machinists Union Local 264 offered MBTA management at least $29 million in annual savings that would increase over time. That’s more than the $21 million savings targeted for bus maintenance by the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board. It’s working families that suffer when we let politicians like Governor Baker outsource based on fuzzy math and false promises.
Last week’s argument: Should Massachusetts allow guns to be equipped with suppressors, or silencers?
No: 84.75% (50 votes)
Yes: 15.25% (9 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.