Report: The MBTA is Overstaffed and Workers Are Overpaid

A new report claims that the T is putting a lot of cash into its bus maintenance program, and garages are overstaffed.

As the legislature continues to hash out funding options for the state’s transportation infrastructure, a policy group is calling on the MBTA to reduce its “out of control” spending habits, including overpaying maintenance workers and doling out too much cash to fix the T’s bus problems.

In a report released by the Pioneer Institute on Wednesday, called “The MBTA’s Out-of-Control Bus Maintenance Costs,” researchers scrutinized the T’s internal decision-making process and claimed the transit agency could save more than $250 million over a six year period by bringing its costs into line with those of comparable transit agencies across the country. “[This report] considers the causes of the T’s inordinately high bus maintenance spending,” said the report’s author, Gregory Sullivan, research director for the Pioneer Institute.

Sullivan claims the MBTA spent a “whopping” $832 million on bus maintenance between 2000 and 2011, and highlighted several key areas for improvement in the report, including excessive staffing levels at MBTA garages. “The MBTA ranked second out of the nation’s 29 largest transit systems in the number of full-time maintenance personnel employed per bus mile traveled, 63% higher than average,” Sullivan noted in the report.

Those high levels of employment, which the institute argued could be slashed, were matched by  “excessive compensation” costs, putting some of the T’s maintenance workers in a higher bracket than even Governor Deval Patrick, and the head of MassDOT, Rich Davey, who oversees the MBTA’s operations and budget. “[Two] forepersons at the MBTA’s Charlestown and Fellsway maintenance and repair facilities earned $194,337 and $166,297 respectively in 2012. By comparison, Governor Patrick earned $139,832 and Transportation Secretary Davey earned $152,076,” Sullivan said in the report, based on findings from the Boston Herald’s “Your Tax Dollars at Work” website.

The average 2012 wage for a T bus maintenance employee was $78,550 including overtime.

MBTA officials said they would need time to analyze the findings presented by the Pioneer Institute before coming to any conclusions about worker compensation, overstaffing accusations, and the cost to fix its buses because each U.S. transit system has different methods for reporting information to the National Transit Database.

In a statement, T Spokesman Joe Pesaturo said a bus component failure reported by one agency might not be reported by another, so the information could vary from state to state.  “It’s also a fact that road and operating conditions vary greatly, meaning some transit system’s buses require a higher level of maintenance than others.  Work rules, job classifications and duties also differ from one agency to another, making it very difficult to offer an accurate ‘apples to apples’ comparison,” he said. “One thing is certain, however, the MBTA has successfully managed its limited staff and resources to achieve maximum benefits.”

Over the past five years, the T reduced headcount by more than 400 people.  Five years ago, the headcount was 6,350.  “Despite a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog, the MBTA has also managed to reduce overtime wages last fiscal year,” T officials said in their rebuttal to the Pioneer Institute’s claims.

In an accompanying document sent to Boston, called “MBTA: Doing More With Less,” the T said their “Bus Maintenance Cost per mile” was less than New York City’s transportation costs, and in-line with Washington, D.C.’s. The T’s report also said the hourly wage rates for bus machinists are consistent with those of other major transit systems, and even less than San Francisco’s, and San Jose’s transit agencies respectively.

As for the two high-paid employees, the T said the reports of machinists making more than both Patrick and Davey were misleading, and that the individuals that earned that much in 2012 did so because of eight months work of back-pay “after settling disciplinary disputes.”

But the Pioneer Institute still thinks there is room for vast improvement in order to cut back expenses, especially at a time when transportation funding is the center of legislative debate. “Given the board of directors’ demonstrated willingness to capture substantial savings through competitive bus repair procurement, Pioneer Institute thinks that it is time for the Legislature and the Governor to intervene to bring down the MBTA’s maintenance costs,” said Sullivan.

You can read the Pioneer Institute’s full report here. 

Below are some key findings from the Pioneer report:

  • When fringe benefits are included, the average cost per full-time employee was $111,634.
  • The top ten highest paid machinists averaged $134,554; highest was $151,363.
  • The top ten highest paid painters averaged $86,486; highest was $101,199.
  • The top ten highest paid fuelers averaged $67,326; highest was $79,986.
  • The MBTA spent more than twice as much over five years as a bus transit agency with virtually identical fleet characteristics, but experienced almost three times as many major mechanical system failures.
  • MBTA bus maintenance costs are twice as high as the 20 bus agencies closest to the T in national maintenance performance rankings.