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Should the MBTA privatize its Quincy, Arborway, and Lynn bus maintenance garages?


Greg Sullivan

Norwood resident, research director at Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank

Greg Sullivan.Handout

Today, the MBTA would be facing a $335 million budget shortfall if not for the Fiscal and Management Control Board that was established after the T’s meltdown during the winter of 2015. That deficit is now $30 million. Much of the progress is due to an exemption from the Commonwealth’s anti-privatization law. Legislators finally recognized that protecting poor business practices was a luxury the T could not afford. The next opportunity to use competition to reduce costs and improve quality – contracting out bus maintenance in three MBTA garages, including one in Quincy – promises the greatest return so far.


In February, a private contractor took over the MBTA’s warehouse operations. Annual costs that were more than $12 million are on track to fall to just over $7 million. The time it takes to fulfill parts requests has fallen from an average of more than 68 hours to 10. Shipment accuracy has improved dramatically, according to the MBTA.

The T has also privatized its money room. Annual costs will decline from $11.8 million to $3.6 million. The time from collection to bank deposit has shrunk from more than 120 hours to 24 hours, the MBTA says.

In 2015, the latest year for which data are available, the MBTA had the highest maintenance costs in the nation per hour of bus operation, according to a recent report I prepared for the Pioneer Institute. Reducing those costs to the average of the five agencies the Federal Transit Administration considered most like the T will save more than $40 million annually.

Both MBTA maintenance costs and maintenance labor salaries per hour of bus operations are 70 percent higher than the average of its peers, our report said.


Two independent assessments have pegged annual savings from bus maintenance privatization at 30-40 percent, which would bring MBTA costs more in line with those national peers.

The Commonwealth’s Regional Transit Authorities, which are not covered by the anti-privatization law, already competitively bid bus maintenance. All use union mechanics, as the MBTA almost certainly will after competitive procurement, and they have markedly lower costs than the T.

For too long, critical MBTA infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate. Without sacrificing quality, competitive procurement allows the T to save money that can be reinvested in the core system.


Nate Dubois

Weymouth resident, MBTA mechanic at the Arborway garage; Marine Corps veteran

Nate Dubois.Handout

I worked on information technology in the Marine Corps. But when I got home in 2008, it was hard to find jobs because of the recession, so I tried finding work in security and aircraft maintenance before I eventually switched to working on buses.

The training process required to become an MBTA mechanic is rigorous and rightly so. We are responsible for keeping our riders safe, and we take this obligation very seriously. To become an MBTA mechanic, you must pass a challenging exam and put in lots of training hours -- that’s why we’re some of the best mechanics in the nation. Our buses are safe and, according to MBTA data, break down less than in any other comparable major transit system in the United States.

Despite this performance record and the fact that we earn just 3 percent above the national average when adjusted for cost of living (according to national transit data compiled by the Invest Now coalition), Governor Charlie Baker seems determined to privatize our jobs.


Privatization cuts costs in the short term but allows long-term costs to rise, as we have seen with the mismanagement of commuter rail. The mechanics, fuelers, and technicians within the Machinists Union Local 264 that keep the buses safe and operational offered then MBTA acting general manager Brian Shortsleeve at least $29 million in annual savings that would increase over time. That’s more than the $21 million to $23 million savings target for bus maintenance set forth by the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board.

I voted for Charlie Baker and I’m very disappointed that now he’s trying to take my job. I want the governor to keep his word not to privatize jobs at the MBTA.

If my job is outsourced, it would change everything. My wife and I have worked very hard for all that we have, but losing my job would mean losing the house and losing time with family, because we would both have to go back to working multiple jobs.

This really is a war being waged on the middle class. Who gets hurt when we let politicians outsource and privatize jobs based on fuzzy math and false promises of savings from private companies? The answer is working families and our communities.

Last week’s argument: Should Massachusetts allow guns to be equipped with suppressors, or silencers?


Yes: 11 percent (9 votes)

No: 89 percent (70 votes)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.