IBEW Local 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis was flanked by dozens of MBTA bus maintenance workers at the T's board meeting Monday.

IBEW Local 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis was flanked by dozens of MBTA bus maintenance workers at the T's board meeting Monday.

Credit: Mike Deehan

MBTA Takes A Step Toward Outsourcing Bus Maintenance

March 6, 2017

The MBTA is moving ahead with plans to privatize bus maintenance, the next step in Gov. Baker's strategy of outsourcing T operations to save on costs. MBTA managers estimate they could save between 30 and 50 percent on bus maintenance if they contract out the operation of the system's nine bus garages instead of keeping the jobs in-house. The potential savings could be over $50 million a year.

Craig Hughes of the International Association of Machinists says T managers need to work with the current mechanic staff to increase productivity.

"We deserve to be seen as part of the solution rather than a cost to be cut," Hughes said at the MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting Monday.

Acting MBTA General Manager Brian Shortsleeve said the union will have the opportunity to show how efficient it can be when brand new buses arrive next year.

"It's critical as an organization that we're ruthless in driving productivity. We need to be able to do it and I think there's an opportunity here for us in a brand new fleet in a garage that's in great shape to demonstrate that we can meet or exceed private sector standards," Shortsleeve said.

The T will solicit proposals from private maintenance companies before deciding whether to outsource the work. The proposals could be for major transportation companies to take over some or all of the MBTA's bus maintenance garages. 

Workers from the private maintenance companies would still be unionized, but no longer employees of the state.

The MBTA pays $132 million a year to maintain the bus fleet, with much of the cost going to personnel.

Hughes told the board Monday that the current workforce, with knowledge of the issues and system, should be involved in fixing the T. 120 machinists work in the bus maintenance garages.

"The choice is not just between bus maintenance as it currently exists or bringing in a private contractor with the hope that the service is maintained at a cheaper price, there is another way. It is with the members of Local 264 who have more knowledge and experience in bus maintenance than anyone else at the MBTA and we can be counted on in an effort to improve productivity, cut costs and continue to make the MBTA bus maintenance operation the best in the country," Hughes said.

Mark Aesch, an analyst brought in by the MBTA to examine the maintenance system, said that 75 percent of the $132 million the T spends on buses, or roughly $99 million, goes to personnel.

"Obviously it's an unsustainable model. We invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the modernization of the fleet, yet we're not in a position where the taxpayer enjoys the benefit of that through reduced cost," Aesch said.

The MBTA board also heard a plan Monday that could give the go-ahead for Commuter Rail operator Keolis to build fare gates at North Station, South Station and Back Bay station, the three most popular commuter rail destinations. The gates would prevent unauthorized passengers from getting on or off trains.

The T estimates it's losing up to $30 million a year from lost fares, some from evasion and some from train personnel simply failing to check fares on the vehicles.

Under a new revenue sharing proposal, the MBTA would split any additional money made off the captured fares with Keolis. If the board approves the plan, fare gates could be installed as early as next winter.

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