T fare hikes coming as huge paychecks go to some workers

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2015/12/21/t-fare-hikes-coming-as-huge-paychecks-go-to-some-workers/

BOSTON – Officials of Boston’s financially beleaguered transit system revealed Monday that the top-paid worker on the T has received over $300,000 so far this year, including about 2,600 hours of overtime, while the system’s general manager said fares will begin rising starting July 1.

Almost a quarter of the employees who drive the buses, trolleys and subway trains for the deficit-ridden Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority got paid more than $100,000 this year, Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s chief administrator, told the Fiscal and Management Control Board that oversees the T on Monday, State House News Service reported.

Shortsleeve’s numbers indicate that more than 1,550 of the system’s workers receive wages of more than $100,000 annually. But some have made much more.

One worker, described as a maintenance of way employee, has been paid about $315,000 this year, including $59,000 in back wages from a contract settlement. But that worker, whose base salary is $85,000, has also been paid for about 2,600 hours of overtime – roughly equivalent to working 15 hour days every day of the year.

“We’re looking into it,” Frank DePaola, the MBTA’s general manager said when asked how it’s possible for a person to work so many overtime hours in an interview with WBZ-AM talk-show host Dan Rea. “It’s hard to fathom how they could do it.”

Referring to “glaring examples of excess” in pay rates, DePaola said on WBZ. “We’re trying to dig into why those numbers are so high.”

One factor is a contract settlement with one of the transit service’s biggest unions that led to one-time payments of three years of back wages, DePaola said.

Facing budget deficits closing in on $200 million annually, the T is expected to hike fares on virtually all its services starting July 1, DePaolo said. He said state law permits fares to increase as much as 10 percent every two years.

Some advocates say the law actually limits increases to half that amount every two years.

Shortsleeve’s presentation about T costs occurred amid discussions of cuts to “The Ride” paratransit services and early-morning weekend subway service with a $242 million deficit projected for fiscal 2017, which begins July 1.

DePaola also pointed out that in some categories at least, T employees make more money than those who do comparable jobs on other transit systems around the country. Shortsleeve said the average $35.58 hourly wage for a T employee is 30 percent above the national average for similar work. He said bus drivers for the Boston system, who get an average of $34.99 an hour, exceed the national average by about 50 percent.

Shortsleeve said the transit system is looking at ways to improve the fare collection system, such as permitting riders to pay with their mobile phones, State House News reported. It said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack noted that the adoption of the current Charlie card payment system makes it impossible to charge streetcar or subway fares based on how far a rider travels rather than a flat fee. Shortsleeve said changing fare-collection technology would take at least three years.