MBTA pays too much for bus maintenance, research group claims

The MBTA pays twice as much for bus maintenance as most other transit agencies in the country, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pioneer Institute, a public policy research organization.

At a press conference outside the State House this morning, Gregory W. Sullivan, research director at the Pioneer Institute, said an analysis shows that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority could save $250 million over the course of the next six years by bringing down bus maintenance costs to national standards, employing fewer repairmen and fueling staff, and paying those workers less.

“The MBTA bus maintenance is taking Massachusetts taxpayers for a ride,” Sullivan said.

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The report argued that MBTA garages have too many workers, and that those workers make much more money than they would doing the same work for other employers. Of the 29 largest transit agencies in the country, the MBTA ranked second in terms of the number of full-time maintenance employees per bus mile traveled — 63 percent higher than the average, the report said.

“Overall, the staffing at MBTA garages is way above national standards,” Sullivan said.

Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the T, said the agency would need time to assess all the findings laid out in the report. He questioned whether the report’s conclusions were fair, saying different road and climate conditions around the country can mean different frequency and cost of repairs.

Additionally, Pesaturo said, “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.”

Pesaturo said the assertion that the agency exorbitantly overspends is inaccurate.

“The MBTA has successfully managed its limited staff and resources to achieve maximum benefits,” Pesaturo said.

Sullivan said some of the blame for what he called the T’s bloated staff lies not with the transit agency, but instead with state legislators. He said the so-called Pacheco Law, which restricts privatization at the T and other sectors of state government, has hamstrung T officials who could get more bang for their buck by outsourcing bus maintenance to private companies. But legislators, he said, are beholden to the concerns of powerful unions.

“We have no doubt that MBTA management ... is trying to do the right thing,” Sullivan said. “They’re handcuffed by a culture at the MBTA garages called, ‘Don’t Kill the Job.’”