The following column by Representative Leonard Mirra (R-Newbury) appeared in the September 10 edition of the Boston Globe’s North Section:
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.