There’s been a lot of discussion of Doug Macdonald’s Crosscut piece that points to abnormally high wage levels among some Metro drivers:

Experienced drivers at the top of the wage scale in 2009 made $28.47 an hour, topping all but two cities on a list of 29 around the country — and including six other systems in Washington state. Nationally, only Boston and San Jose were higher than Metro. New York and San Francisco were lower. Community Transit (Snohomish County), Pierce Transit, Intercity Transit (Thurston County), C-Trans (Clark County), Spokane Transit, and Whatcom Transit (Bellingham) were lower by 8 percent to 25 percent.

Looking solely at the top of the wage scale raises more interesting questions than it answers.  Why not average pay?  Are Metro’s drivers unusually old?  Has the union simply decided to lavishly compensate experienced drivers at the expense of new and part-time ones?  And of course, the report doesn’t discuss overtime pay and benefits at all.  We’re left with a startlingly incomplete picture of the wage situation.  Metro was not able to provide me with the comparative data that would have answered some of these questions.

This blog isn’t about “living wages” or union solidarity or anything like that, and it’s certainly in the interest of transit riders to get as much service as possible for any given amount of revenue.  Regardless of how “fair” Metro’s wage structure is, it’s fortuitous for taxpayers and Metro’s customers that the Amalgamated Transit Union’s contract is up on October 31st.  Given Metro’s current budget situation, labor will be left with a difficult choice between preserving compensation or preserving jobs.  We’re likely to come out with a system with a lower cost of operation.

You can see the report to Metro’s Transit Task Force for yourself here, but some images below the jump highlight the most interesting data.

In related but more boring news that may give ATU some confidence, PubliCola reports that the union won an arbitration case involving furlough pay.

Metro has some of the highest top pay for drivers compared to other bus systems. Click to enlarge.
And even with that high compensation, it has also increased its top pay by a higher percentage than almost any other system looked at. Click to enlarge.

116 Replies to “Metro Wage Levels”

  1. And? I realize as a government agency, they are required to have some transparency as far as salaries go but who is to say what is too much for a person to make? Why is it even our concern? As gas prices go up, do you care about how much the attendant or truck driver is making? As grocery prices rise, do you do studies of cashier wages? I have no idea what goes into being a bus driver (thankfully, we have people here that do) but if they get paid that much, that is the cost of doing business. I’m wondering how willing everyone else would be to post their salaries so we could examine those, as well.

    1. In many ways, I believe that KCM has proven that their cost structure is one of the highest in the country, even compared with other expensive cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. I think it’s absolutely fair to question why Metro is paying more than such agencies, if that’s really the case. If Metro’s costs were cut just 5%, how much additional bus service would that buy? Or perhaps more relevant in the current times, how much less would need to be cut?

      1. I won’t try to deny that KCM has a high cost structure; certainly the highest in the region which affects ST’s cost of providing service because they must pass along contract costs. However, there is usually some value in paying above average wage. Henry Ford realized this. So the question is are the high salaries worth the cost. Knowing that there is the chance of working into a good paying position will certainly increase the number of people applying for entry level positions and have a positive effect on retaining employees which both have a positive payback. Then there’s also the question of how much does the experience result in better performance (i.e. lower accident rates, better on time performance, greater customer satisfaction). UPS has the highest pay scale by far of it’s competitors but the company does this not because of union pressure but because they believe it contributes to the bottom line.

      2. I think that works when you can actually fire employees for poor performance or there is real accountability. Anecdotally, I’ve heard it’s very difficult to lose your job when you’re a member of the ATU.

        Prevailing wage does hover above market-clearing price (i.e., the natural rate of unemployment is not 0%) and competition makes wages tend to grow faster than inflation, and that’s all okay. Certainly UPS thinks that it makes more revenue by paying employees higher than the competition, but in relatively unskilled labor like bus driving I’m very uncertain that the compensation we provide is worth it.

      3. I’d have to disagree with the relatively unskilled labor characterization. Certainly the families of those recently killed in Portland would like to see a little more focus on driver performance. I wouldn’t want to drive an articulated in the snow. I’ve had experience hauling relatively heavy trailers (~5,000#) and that requires a skill set the average driver doesn’t possess. But a 24′ Airstream is a piece of cake compared to the size and mass of a bus and I’ve never tried to meet a schedule in rush hour traffic. Then you can add on the interpersonal skills required to deal with the general public and the associated safety concerns for both the driver and the passengers and the need to interact with a complex fare system. One way to measure the “quality” of Metro drivers would be to look at insurance and liability costs relative to comparable markets.

      4. Clearly I am not advocating for the senseless death of innocent civilians, but my impression is that one can go to “bus school” and become a bus driver (does Metro pay the costs of that?), whereas most — say — computer programmers go through four years of college education. So the investment in human capital for a bus driver is smaller than other jobs, and thus compensation is generally lower.

      5. During our snows, there is no evidence that our drivers are skilled in driving in snow. And there’s great variation in interpersonal skills. I see no evidence that drivers are hired based on interpersonal skills nor compensated based on that. Performance-based compensation can produce results, but that’s not at work here.

      6. That’s because we don’t get much snow in Seattle and all the more reason you want to retain drivers who have had the chance to experience this first hand. Adding performance measures certainly can be a good thing but there’s ample reason to believe that simple seniority (i.e. experience) counts for something. If it didn’t UPS wouldn’t be using a similar system. In some sense tenure does provide a measure of performance; you show up on time, you don’t have horrible driving record, etc.

      7. Carl – Interpersonal skills? You mean passengers who spit on the driver, scream at the driver, threaten the driver, and occasionally beat the driver half to death? Those interpersonal skills?

        What you really mean by “interpersonal skills” is the the stressed out driver who hasn’t even had a bathroom break didn’t kiss your ass as you fumble for change at the fare box holding up the bus. Oh, I’m so sorry. Fill out a HURT FEELINGS REPORT and mail it in.

      8. Good one Scott!

        Listen folks-you know how ready you were to get out of your car the last time you drove it down I5 to Portland. Try doing eight hours in Seattle traffic hauling winos and whinny ass yuppies like these bloggers around while all around you are dealing with inattentive cell phone using/texting car drivers and pedestrians and construction zones. Passengers step up and block your windshield and mirrors as you make a turn, effectively blinding you, and then ask you a question they would know the answer to is they simply looked at the destination sign on the bus when they boarded it. And do you know what it means to “rock and roll.” That’s a technique for dealing with the blind spots that are inherent in the bud design. You are constantly at risk of assault. I’ve been spit at twice. It really pisses a person off. Ever been spit at on your job? How about been called an asshole for doing your job? Happens to bus drivers every day. I know a driver who had a teenager place a gun to his head and pull the trigger. the gun went “click” and the kid and his buddies ran off the bus. He doesn’t know if the gun was not loaded or mis-fired. That ever happen to you at work.

        It’s strange how you folks get upset about hard working bus drivers earning a living wage while never questioning a system in which most of the wealth is concentrated at the top.

        There are damn few commenters at this blog, and no bloggers, who have the guts and ability to be transit operators in this city.

      9. Just speaking as one blogger, I did have the guts to take mortar fire in my last job, but perhaps you’re right that driving a bus takes more courage.

        Or maybe you don’t know anything about us.

      10. Bus Driver-

        Driving a bus entails some risks and requires some training. Wage is not simply provided in exchange for those risks and the investment in human capital, because if someone else is willing to take those risks and do that training for less money, you are not entitled to a higher wage just because.

    2. It’s our concern because it affects how much service Metro can purchase for any given amount of revenue.

    3. How can we judge? Well, being public employees there is very little from which to gauge ‘market value’ besides looking at other government agencies pay charts. When your’s is an outlier especially when COL is factored in, that means that you are probably paying too much.

      Why should we care if we are overpaying? Well, b/c labor is a large part of the costs of running a transit system. If you are overpaying, you will either have to charge more than you would otherwise need to, or reduce service hours. Two things most people that use transit are not fans of.

      And since you asked, my pay is public record as well:

      Base Pay:
      E5 with 3 years in: $2,305.50

      Basic Allowance for Housing:
      E5 with Dependents, at Ft. Bragg: $1089

      Basic Allowance for Subsistence:
      Enlisted: $323.87

      Parachute Duty Pay:
      Regular: $150

      I also receive free Healthcare for myself, and almost free for my wife. As part of my enlistment bonus the Army matches up to 4% contributions to my TSP (Federal Government 401K).

    4. M-

      It affects us because “we the people” are the owners of the government. Certainly the owners of my company can access my salary. And since compensation is more than 60% of the Metro budget, of course it’s worth the focus.

      On effect of a union is that it raises compensation above “market-clearing” price. That is, in theory, my private employer pays me my salary (roughly) because I can make about that compensation elsewhere. Transit drivers make a salary above their opportunity cost because of collective bargaining. It is important that the owners of the government (us) do not let the earners of compensation determine what amount of compensation is “fair” for them, because the incentives are obviously wrong. Bargaining goes both ways, and if transit drivers are overpaid compared to their opportunity cost then we are simply wasting money that could be better used on more bus drivers and thus more transit service.

      The union adds complexity to this. If my salary were less than I irrationally desired then I could quit in a fit an anger. If the union makes less than they irrationally desire, then they could strike and halt the entire bus system. This means their position is much stronger, and their ability to be irrational is much larger than me. It’s up to the reader to determine whether the salary positions are irrational or not, I’m just explaining why this is different from a typical private employer-employee situation.

      1. The effect you’re talking about is more aligned with monopolies than with unions, per se.

        In a competitive environment, union workers can earn a higher wage by working harder (more efficiently) than the competition.

        Any time workers or a company in general has a monopoly, or even a partial monopoly, all bets are off. Compensation doesn’t reflect classic economic forces that should apply in a free market.

        You earn what you do, as does Ben and the other STB bloggers I know, because of anti-market forces (some legal, some cultural) that drastically distort the value of your work. (And this is true for just about everyone in America, I believe.) Just sayin’.

      2. The effect you’re talking about is more aligned with monopolies than with unions, per se.

        Suppose there is no such thing as a monopoly, since there are substitutes for everything. What may exist is market power. Unions have market power and use it to prevent competition in labor.

        In a competitive environment, union workers can earn a higher wage by working harder (more efficiently) than the competition.

        I’ve always read that workers are in competition with one-another, since they are in competition with the rest of the labor force. Unions break that competition. i.e., which non-unionized local public transit bus operators compete with unionized bus drivers?

        Obviously if a business model or a government agency fails entirely then the union members will lose their jobs, so there is clearly some incentive to do a good job and all of that. But when you can’t get laid off without an arbitration process, the incentives become less personal.

        Any time workers or a company in general has a monopoly, or even a partial monopoly, all bets are off. Compensation doesn’t reflect classic economic forces that should apply in a free market.

        You say compensation doesn’t reflect supply and demand, but don’t advance an argument for it. This is contrary to my learning. And the concept of a “partial monopoly” sounds fuzzy — that’s why I prefer to think of things as market power.

        You earn what you do, as does Ben and the other STB bloggers I know, because of anti-market forces (some legal, some cultural) that drastically distort the value of your work.

        You claim this without presenting an actual argument, so I don’t know how to respond to that. Unions are very clearly a product of law, and that much is concrete. If there are concrete market distortions for computer programmers in a similar way, I’d be surprised to learn them.

      3. All of the secrecy (cultural), the IP protections (legal), and institutional barriers to entering the software field (cultural, mostly), distort “free-market” compensation for your profession.

        I don’t understand where you’re driving with your points, but it seems to be an argument to race to whatever bottom a de-regulated and undemocratic market will allow.

      4. Of course, Kevin.

        And then they will find their jobs shipped to India.

        Sweet justice.

      5. I’ll be nicer, however, and say that the rejection of even Keynesianism (let alone institutional economics) by tech geeks is a result of them looking at economics as a purely mechanistic field (i.e. a technical field like computer science). Therefore, they generally seek and know only the MOST mechanistic optimized models which is basically neo-classical economics and everything to its “right.”

      6. There really is no field that is a pure free market, for a lot of the reasons Kevin cites. In particular, higher education is subsidized, and there are substantial trade and immigration restrictions.

      7. Kevin, the facts of the world do affect the price of things, but that doesn’t mean those facts are a “distortion.” I find two of your so-called distortions hand-wavy and one the bedrock of modern economy (property rights, rule of law), but okay — I can see your point. Do these not exist for any given field? Organized labor just be on top of that. There is no free market and I’m not aspiring for that.

        As for where I’m going, well, look at the post you originally replied to: It is important that the owners of the government (us) do not let the earners of compensation determine what amount of compensation is “fair” for them, because the incentives are obviously wrong. Bargaining goes both ways, and if transit drivers are overpaid compared to their opportunity cost then we are simply wasting money that could be better used on more bus drivers and thus more transit service.

        The people of the county have a say in Metro employee’s worth to us, and can use information as in the charts above to aid in determining what a “reasonable” salary is. We should dismiss assertions of moral rights to a higher salary, because no one has a moral right to that. You said unions compete when labor unions typically use their market power for relatively anti-competitive means. This ain’t a bad thing for bus drivers, but it definitely raises the average level of compensation. The question is: are we getting a fair deal? Maybe we are. I don’t have a great conclusion on that.

        I’m not saying the ATU should just disappear, but that public labor unions are negotiating with us and we should have an informed negotiating position. I’m also challenging the labor orthodoxy a bit to get people to think about the contracts we agree to — after all, our opinions should be logical conclusions and not just feelings.

        cjh, you are dismissing arguments in an ad hominem way that doesn’t really advance the conversation (I’m not accusing you of breaking any rules, to be sure). While you passively [and incorrectly] lecture me on my thoughts on things, keep in mind that Keynes was a great macroeconomist.

      8. But modern Keynesians, not Keynes himself, focus upon empirical microeconomic issues. So, please, correct yourself.

      9. cjh, no correction is necessary. Keynesian economics is different from New Keynesian economics. The phrase you used above, Keynesian economics, is concerned with the trade-off between inflation and employment, which one can read about online. (This is similar to how neo-classical economics is not the same as classical.)

        It’s kind of unimpressive to name-check the wrong thing when telling people how stupid they are, but mistakes sometimes happen. I’m sure you’ll advance an actual argument at some point in the future.

  2. When I first saw this I had missed the part about it being the top of the wage scale… That does seem like a rather strange way to do it. Average seems like it would make a lot more sense.

    I do think it’s an important thing to look at though. Not that I’m making a value judgement with incomplete data. But when wages and benefits are 65% of the expenses it’s obviously going to have the biggest single impact on service levels.

    Oh, and personally, I wouldn’t mind my company posting their average wage. That’s very different from posting my personal salary.

  3. So–what is the appropriate pay for a bus driver? It seems like Metro should negotiate a better contract given the changed economy. But it also seems we are not that out of line given our cost of living here.

    Remember–like anything else, you get what you pay for.

    1. Many, many studies have shown that higher compensated people doing non-manual labor tend to perform worse. You can Google studies on that. Does that inform us about this situation? No, of course not; but the “you get what you pay for” logic doesn’t really tend to work for labor.

      But what does matter is this: if you pay Metro drivers $10 above market-clearing price for bus drivers, then you might attract drivers who have an higher opportunity cost elsewhere (i.e. are better educated, trained, etc.). But when the wages are higher than market-clearing price, in economics, then you also have less jobs to fill — so how exactly can these solid new hires get positions?

      1. so how exactly can these solid new hires get positions?

        Some of the drivers that comment here will have a better insight that I do but I believe the answer lies in the concept of deferred compensation. Metro relies to a great degree on part time drivers. I suspect many are putting up with the crappy split shift situation because they see it as a way to qualify for a much better paying job in the future. With out this carrot we’d like have to increase PT pay to maintain the same turnover rate.

      2. But the increase in part-time pay could perhaps be made up by the decrease full-time pay. And who says even current part-time pay is too low? Things like deferred compensation do sound like rational justifications for the pay scale, but these justifications are made by those who benefit from the current system and why should we trust them when the real test is whether there would be a labor shortage or not with changes.

      3. I’m not relying on anybodies justification; simply pointing out that these things need to be honestly investigated in order to come to a conclusion. Increasing PT pay might be enough to maintain a pool of applicants but if it increases turnover and associated training cost then it still wouldn’t break even. Plus there’s a lot more PT drivers than there are drivers at the top of the pay scale so any savings by reducing the top rate are going to be spread pretty thin.

        And who says even current part-time pay is too low?

        I looked a while back when this topic came up and found that Metro’s PT rate was very comparable to what districts are paying school bus drivers. I don’t know how it compares to PT drivers with CT or PT which would be a better comparison.

      4. Just to challenge the thinking a bit: do things need to be “honestly investigated”? Was your private sector wage “honestly investigated”? I don’t think mine was.

        Perhaps the reality is that we have union labor that is more expensive than the market would typically allow and we have to work within that framework. I sort of out of hand rejected the idea we should overpay senior bus drivers to recruit underpaid junior ones, and I didn’t mean to dismiss serious analysis, but I don’t think the argument holds up. For example, experienced bus drivers often aren’t the ones driving the most difficult routes because you get to pick your route based on seniority. Those articulated buses are often piloted by newbies.

      5. I think it would make a ton of sense to pay drivers more for less desirable routes. It’s not hard to figure out, based on driver request, which are the ones to avoid.

      6. I agree in principle, but I could imagine that the implementation of that would get pretty ugly, especially if were determined that there was a pretty solid correlation between such ‘hardship pay’ and service to low-income and minority neighborhoods. That would be a toxic stew for Metro.

      7. Was your private sector wage “honestly investigated”? I don’t think mine was.

        Yes, and most mid to large companies pay third party providers for information on comparable wages in the industry. The purpose of performance reviews is very much an investigation of value provided for salary received. I don’t think there is such a system in place with Metro since it seems to be strictly tenure related. One might reasonably assume that without such oversight we are over paying but unless it’s investigated we don’t really know and certainly don’t know by how much. Salary concessions may be in order in the up coming contract negotiations but at the same time we don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish.

        Metro needs to look at all areas but, as was the focus of a recent post Access costs seem to be out of hand. $50 million of a $500M budget (2008 annual report)? That’s 10% of the budget for less than 1% of the trips provided!
        Adjusted Direct Operating Cost/Access Psgr Ride. . . . . $39.17
        Adjusted Direct Operating Cost/Taxi Psgr Ride . . . . . . . $9.98
        Simply paying cab fare for half of the rides instead of only 7.5% would have saved $16 million (actually more since capital costs would be lower too to the tune of about $2M).

        Operators 2,789
        Other 1,744

        I know you need maintenance (although much of that could probably be contracted for less, the water taxi service certainly was) and dispatchers and managers but only 60% of the organization is actually driving buses! It’s actually less than that since they don’t list this as FTEs and Full Timers accounted for only 1,831 operators and 958 were part time employees. It would be interesting to know what the percentage is for Greyhound, Trailways, First Student, Inc. American Transportation Systems, etc.

        Bottom line is if you figure maybe 10% of the full timers are in the over paid segment and cut salaries 10% you only save about $1.8 million. Eliminate SLUT operations until there’s sufficient demand to justify it (provides less than .5% of all trips) and you save $2.2M. All parts of the Metro cost structure need to be looked at but the potential savings from driver salaries are relatively thin pickings.

      8. I realize you’re just taking a cheap shot, but you wouldn’t save anywhere near $2.2M if you had to replace the streetcar with a bus route at the same headways.

      9. I don’t see “combat pay” as a solution to dangerous routes. Wouldn’t more security presence be a better solution?

      10. Why on earth would you replace the service at the same frequency when the route utilization is only 10%. But if you did it would still be cheaper because the operating cost per hour for a bus is less than the SC and the demand is far less than a what a bus can handle. Most of the day it could be a cutaway van. Two buses, 18 hours a day, 365 days a year at $130/hr is only $1.7M.

        There’s already adequate bus service and a huge number of the trips can be replaced by simply walking. I mean it only covers a mile in 15 minutes. 3 mph is a leisurely walk and would get you there in 20 min. It’s cute, yes and good for Paul Allen but necessary? No. Put it in the barn until there’s enough demand to justify running it.

      11. Part timers start out at 70% of top pay which is $19.93 right now and are guaranteed 2.5 hours a day–not enough hours to qualify for benefits. Right now, I believe, it is taking about 3 years before they get an opportunity to go full time. If they have taken over three sick days the previous year or accumulated other negative points due to performance write ups or accidents they don’t get to go full time.

      12. The sick day punishment doesn’t sounds like a healthy thing at all, but why shouldn’t performance or accidents be relevant metrics?

  4. Even these incomplete numbers would be more usable for actually thinking about this issue if they were corrected for differences in the cost of living in these various cities.

    1. One approach could be to correct using the average fare in the different cities. How many fares/hour are different drivers paid?

      1. Cost of living makes sense, but average fare might not be relevant for a system that by its nature doesn’t generate a profit.

  5. I don’t really mind a driver with 25+ years experience making $60,000 a year, but I do worry when I see a 4% increase over 5 years when the economy at large has been experiencing either zero inflation or outright deflation. I’m not virulently anti-union, but I do appreciate the fact that wages should be sensitive to broader economic conditions.

    If we want to improve the lot of Metro drivers, at the risk of repeating myself (and Jeff Welch), we’ve got to do something about the 37%% of Metro drivers who work part-time due to our peak-period-one-seat-ride obsession. If you work a half shift during the peak hours of the day, how the hell are you supposed to have another job as well?

    1. If you work a half shift during the peak hours of the day, how the hell are you supposed to have another job as well?

      We can’t determine wage by subjective measures of fairness. That’s the job of the labor itself — if a worker can’t support himself by working a part-time job, then he won’t work that job unless it’s worth it to him, right?

      1. John, I actually agree with you about wages; that markets do a decent job of determining them and that they should be sensitive to economic conditions (ie. wages should probably fall right now). I was merely suggesting that restructuring service away from a model that requires so many part-time operators would be in everyone’s best interest, including labor.

      2. The only way I see to do that, given the peak commute demand nature would be to start eliminating peak hour express routes and offer VanPools as a replacement. VanPools are hands down Metros best bang for the buck.

      3. If the peak-hour routes are full, then what is the effect of replacing those routes with van pools? (This is just a question.)

        If the routes are much less than full, why are they not being cut or eliminated, especially if a Link connection is available?

        We’ve got service needs waiting in line with no hope other than for other routes to get cut.

        While the theoretical talk of cutting top salaries might be mathematically interesting, it is not a real-world scenario. It’s not as if the price of food and gas (for those who have to drive to work or be forced to live next to their job) isn’t going up.

      4. I’m not suggesting pulling the routes that are full but the stinkers that exist largely because of the politics involved with assigning service hours. The Peak hours 244EX from Kenmore for example has only a 9% fare recovery ratio. I don’t think you’d even have to provide VanPool service to replace this route because of the current overlapping service. The Peak 929 from North Bend (2% fare recovery) would be a prime candidate to replace with VanPools. The question was, how do you restructure service away from a model that requires so many part-time operators when the demand is heavily weighted toward the peak commute hours. I don’t really think that’s possible or from an economic point of view even desirable.

      5. When I think of a vanpool I think of commuters with fixed places of work and relatively fixed schedules. This is just an educated guess, but only a few of the passengers I drove around on the 929 last summer looked like vanpool passengers. Many were kids, many others were obviously transit dependent. There were a few commuters, but they didn’t appear to be the majority.

        But don’t take this as a defense of the 929. I’d cut low performing routes like this (and the 219 along with a long list I’ve stated before) and replace them with either DART service or even a Taxi voucher service. Heck, the 219 already overlaps with the 925. I’ve driven behind a 925 several times where *BOTH* of us are empty. That said, passengers I’ve spoken with say that DART service isn’t near the quality of fixed Metro service so I’m not sure how you address that issue.

      6. Interesting observation about the 929, that would explain why the ridership numbers are slightly better off peak than peak. Taxi script would likely be the cheapest solution but that points out that what we’re really providing with routes like this is subsidized personal transportation rather than public transportation. If you live in North Bend you’re way outside the realm of where public transportation can ever be effective.

        passengers I’ve spoken with say that DART service isn’t near the quality of fixed Metro service so I’m not sure how you address that issue.

        I’d address it as, “be thankful you’re getting any service at all.” Sounds harsh but the reality is that those funds could be spent elsewhere and provide a greater good to a lot more people. DART for the most part appears to have pretty decent fare recovery compared to similar fixed service routes.

        Metro’s Mission Statement: Provide the best possible public transit services that get people on the bus and improve regional mobility and quality of life in King County. It doesn’t say anything about helping out deep pocket investors with their projects, it doesn’t say everyone in King County has a right to transportation on the public dime. I read “improve regional mobility” as being a mandate to if not reduce congestion to at least offer an alternative. Improved quality of life could mean reduced VMT which isn’t occurring when buses are driving around empty following another empty bus.

      7. “be thankful you’re getting any service at all.” Hmmm… I think I’ll stay away from a comment like that, lest I be considered rude ;)

        Still, I’m with you. I prefer driving a 212, 550, or 218 any day. I’d pour money into bike facilities heading to park & rides, but that’s just me…

    2. I’d like to see time series data. That makes a lot of sense, though. If a higher than average % of workers have to work part time, the cost per hour for those part time workers should be higher than for full-timers, because most people want full-time work (or if they want part-time work, not at those hours). This could have the effect of making the wage higher. The wage structure issue I think is problematic in a deflationary – or nearly so- environment. A couple of years of flat revenues and 4% increases in wages, and its not surprising that budget gaps are monstrous.

      BTW, Metro drivers, on the whole, are best group of transit drivers I’ve experienced, having lived in DC, SF, and traveling extensively to Philly and NYC. So my desire to create a workable wage structure doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of my experience. I agree the drivers should be paid amongst the top transit agencies, it just can’t grow at 3-4% per year in the next few years.

    3. Why should senior drivers get paid more? Do you really get much better at driving a bus after you have had five years on the job? This isn’t a knock on bus drivers. I don’t do my job much better than I did five years ago but I get paid a lot more. If the state ever gets some more money I will move towards the top of the pay scale for the next 20 years even if I don’t improve my performance. If the state doesn’t get any more money then the top of the pay scale will come back to me :(

      1. You might not feel like you’re getting better but I can’t help but to think each year of experience makes you a better driver and a more valued employee. Don’t you continue to learn new routes? Become proficient with different equipment? That makes you a more valuable asset. Aren’t there interactions with the public which you are better at dealing with having “seen it all before”? But even if you’re not getting better the real comparison is to the cost of hiring and training a replacement. That cost is at a very minimum the value added by paying enough that drivers don’t leave the profession. You also make yourself a more valued employee simply by maintaining a steady employment record. If I’m starting a tour bus company I’m going to be willing to pay a premium for someone that has a track record of stable employment with a single company.

      2. Seniority is but just one variable in terms of a quality employee. Institutional knowledge is important, but organized labor’s focus on seniority hampers quality instead of encouraging it, in my opinion.

      3. I’ve been driving almost 4 years now and I know I’m a better driver. I’ve driven in snow and ice, I’ve driven all of Metro’s current equipment, I deliver a smoother ride, have more answers to the questions I’m asked, and more importantly, know the danger areas around the city better so I can avoid hitting people and objects. There is a graph at the base that illustrates this point. It shows the number of preventable accidents per year of service and looks pretty much you would expect – A large number of preventable accidents in years one and two, followed by a steady decline in accidents as we progress in our careers.

        I also know more of what to look, listen, and feel for on a coach to avoid road service calls. I only wish Metro would give us more training in this area. I’ve heard many stories about senior drivers reporting issues to maintenance before they become a problem that saved Metro *thousands* of dollars in maintenance costs.

  6. “Why not average pay?”

    Actually median pay would be more informative, since means are more influenced by extreme values.

  7. Wages is THE major cost in public transit. It is also why having to pay the same wages for a driver of a light rail vehicle or a bus, it is cheaper for the light rail vehicle. The light rail vehicle can carry, maybe, 2½ times the number of passengers than a bus, for the same wages. And if they use a train of 2 or 3 light rail vehicles, driven by the same single driver, even more savings.

    1. Wages is THE major cost in public transit.

      Where do you get that idea? It costs about $125/hr to operate a Metro bus. I’m pretty sure that there are no drivers making more than $62.50/hr even if they’re pulling an overtime shift on Christmas. Even the highest paid drivers only account for about 25% of the operational cost. Fuel accounts for about 6% of operating costs. Vehicle maintenance accounts for about 18%. THE major cost in public transit disappears into the black hole called administration. You know, those fine folks that plan streetcars, service changes, negotiate labor contracts, wine and dine equipment manufactures and smooze with politicians. Look, less than 60% of Metro employees are operators. Their sallaries account for less than 25% of the budget. The 40 some percent that isn’t driving or doing maintenance is consuming 1/2 of the operational budget. Seems to me like a clear case of too many chiefs and not enough indians.

      The light rail vehicle can carry, maybe, 2½ times the number of passengers than a bus, for the same wages.

      Except the light rail vehicle doesn’t carry 2½ times the passengers (the difference between can and do) yet it still cost more to operate and way more to build. SLUT for example is operating at 10% of capacity. LINK is nowhere close to capacity. If you add cars to a mostly empty train you just increase capital and operational costs with absolutely zero benefit. It also only serves a small fraction of the area and requires the same bus service to cover the rest and to provide feeder service.

      1. Don’t administrators get paid wages too? So if you add up the drivers’ wages plus the administrative wages, then, yes – wages are huge. Unless of course the majority of that is taken up by the administrators’ expense accounts.

      2. Administrators, as the budget numbers show do indeed receive wages/salaries far in excess of drivers. The assertion by W. K. Lis was that drivers wages were THE major cost in public transit. Hence the idea that replacing buses with light rail vehicles was a way to reduce cost. Which of course is a total crock.

      3. The number presented here is just the hourly rates for the drivers. It does not include benefits. I wonder how much benefits add to that?

      4. That’s a very good point. Wages are only a portion of the cost per employee. Half of Social Security for example is “covered” by the employer. Health benefits are a huge cost and one of the reasons it’s more cost effective to pay OT than higher additional people.

      5. The SLU Streetcar was planned and built by Seattle, and if you factor in the sponsorships they’re cheaper to operate that an diesel bus (largely because of fuel). Based on European experience, the vehicles will also last a lot longer. But, this talk of trains is completely off topic considering both Link and the SLU Streetcar have funding coming from outside Metro.

      6. Nope, the sweet heart deal Vulcan struck leaves Metro totally on the hook for on going operational costs. The $25M (over time, whereas the capital expense had to be paid for up front with bonds) was a hook to assure premium service would be delivered at zero cost.

      7. What I mean is that the sponsorships are “funding coming from outside Metro”.

        However, I found something very interesting looking at some numbers.

        According to this 2005 Nick Licata newsletter, “The cost to operate a bus per hour, including overhead, is approximately $98” and Metro pays 75% of streetcar O&M costs:

        According to the Seattle Streetcar Report page 75 and following, streetcars cost about $130/hour, or 30% more than average buses, and again the reason is “there are more buses in operation than streetcars, resulting in economies of scale for that mode”:

        So… what’s the 75% of $130 that Metro is covering for the SLU Streetcar? That would be $97.50, in other words almost identical to the average bus cost! (It’s also worth noting that sponsorship revenues cover most of Seattle’s 25% as well, though since 3 stations are unsponsored not all of it.)

        That’s not to say streetcar is the only mode to look at. CD News showed in “Trolleys save $, but financial case depends on price of oil” that ETBs have lower cost to operate that diesel buses.

      8. The O&M agreement was on a sliding scale. Metro is now on the hook for 100% of those costs going forward. It was a cleverly crafted deal by a sharp developer.

      9. Do you have a source that it’s now 100%, or for that matter that it’s a sliding scale? The source I’ve looked at all have the same 75% number, which I assume was so that it would be equal to the Metro’s average cost, including fuel and wages.

      10. Mmm, the SLU Streetcar Financing Report says that in phase 2 which started last summer the City of Seattle will pay 25% and Metro pays 75% less farebox revenue. In phase 1 the City paid for everything. I had thought that LID money was supposed to help with O&M for the first couple of years but that appears to never have been the case. I also thought Metro was going to shoulder the entire tab. In essence they are because Seattle gets to keep the federal grant money and advertising. The only real relief Metro gets is that the City will end up underwriting the loss of advertising dollars.

        In the original Financing Report it says, “At the conclusion of phase one, in mid-2009, the operations fund should have more than $550,000 on hand.” Instead the 2008 City budget predicted it to be in the hole by $804,000 and the 2010 budget shows the City was actually on the hook for $1,856,353.

        Over $12M was secured in State and federal grants. Some $6M was pending. Did that come through? Ordinance 121565 specified that no City of Seattle general funds would be used for capital expenses. As it turned out the project was some $4.4M over budget and the money was transferred from the utilities and roads budgets. Some $3M was supposed to come from development rights over the maintenance facility. Has anyone bought those or is that more of the shell game?

        In the SLU Financing Report it said, “The initial year’s cost of operations and maintenance is expected to be $1.51 million (2004 dollars), while subsequent years at this service level will cost $1.37 million (2004 dollars).” That would be $1.72M and $1.56M in 2008 dollars. But the City of Seattle 2010 Budget (page 446) reveals that in 2008 it actually cost $2,365,483.

        Sponsorship in the Financing Report was projected to be $465,000 ($530,216 in 2008 dollars). This was on track until the economy collapsed and the 2010 number had to be revised down from $548,750 to $350,000. We can assume this will increase when the economy bounces back but it’s doubtful it will ever catch up to O&M expenses that have a track record of growing some 10% a year.

        The ongoing expenses continue to be well above predictions (about 40%). For it’s 25% share in 2010 the City has adopted a budget of $651,372. Less the advertising and grant money the City gets to keep that leaves a cash contribution from the City of $159,639 ($85,000 is included as a contingency fund, presumably because prior budgets have consistently been overly optimistic).

        Streetcar fare revenue (estimated at 75 cents per rider; did this come from the old Waterfront Streetcar fare?) is another source of imaginary money. If you had to pay cash money every time you rode (like the Monorail) then it would be real. But we know from times when it was free that there a huge drop off when people have to pay. I’d bet nearly 100% of riders are using a transfer or pass to ride the streetcar or to hop on a bus when they get off. There’s also the issue of independent attempts to report ridership being dramatically lower than whats reported (no automated counting equipment).

        [and if I haven’t made a formatting error in this post I should go buy a Lotto ticket := ]

      11. Replied and hoping that it’s stuck in the “to be approved” limbo due to the number of links.

      12. @ Bernie-
        A reminder that SLU Tram and Link are not at capcity now, nor should they be. They are designed for 50/75/more years of service. They are our first attempts at (non-tourist) rail transport since the 1940s. They will operate with higher load factors when petrol gets to US$10/gallon in the next couple of years.

      13. But what portion of that goes to drivers? Roughly half of Metro employees are operators. In round numbers that’s 2,000 drivers. Lets say they all make the top wage of 60k/yr. That’s $120M. So, you’ve got 50% of the people, the front line people making taking home only 1/3 of the wages.

      14. Sorry, I misspoke. More than 60% of the “transit operating program” goes toward wages and benefits. I have no idea what portion of that “program” employs drivers or not.

      15. According to the latest Annual Report which is for 2008, 2,230 Operators, 747 Vehicle Maintenance employees and 1,037 doing everything else (all numbers expressed as FTEs). I’m not sure why they had 69 LINK employees (apparently all working PT) on the payroll in 2008 or why the SLUS needed 17 people that weren’t operators or maintenance. And I’m wondering why there are 67 people with the title Transit General Manager (Dept of Redundancy Dept?). Even the vehicle maintenance seems high given they only had 1,508 revenue vehicles. Thats one person for every two buses or to look at it another way; that’s 1 hour of maintenance for every 2.5 platform hours of service! Looks to me like Metro should be contracting out a huge portion of their maintenance.

  8. FYI: 43% of METROs operators are not even making the top wage! 6 years for a Part-Timer, 5 years for a Full-Timer to hit that top wage. Everyone hired in the last year is making far less.

      1. What this whole thing attacks is wages, and what it makes it out to be is 100% of the 2800 operators are making 60,000 a year. That is farthest from the truth. Of the work Force, 37% are Part Time, of which 58% do NOT make the top wage yet. So thats 37% that works less than 40 hours a week, and 58% who work far less than 40 hours a week AND make up to 30% less. Not all operators are winners of the $60,000/year wage. Operators actually provide the service, pick you up, drop you off, dodge idiots on the roads, and make it their business to get the riders there safely. Management just looks on, and tries to pick out what your doing wrong, why are we not looking at how things are going in the office, instead of out on the roads?

      2. Sure, let’s look at everyone. But I didn’t know that the majority of full-time workers make the top wage. Where did you find that out? Where are your statistics coming from? I’m sure they’re accurate, it’d just be nice to have access to the same data. You bring up a great point that many workers are part-time and that’s definitely relevant to this conversation.

      3. $60k is actual right at the Median Income for King County. Of course at that level of income you’d only be able to qualify for a $250,000 home which is well below the $380,000 median for King County. Not knowing the details of the benefit package it’s hard to know if the pay is good bad or average. I remember during the Waste Management negotiations it was pointed out that the average wage for a garbage collector was $70k which included a pension plan. While driving a garbage truck is a smelly and more physical job you have better hours, don’t have worry about being assaulted or trying to accomplish the Mercer Weave during rush hour.

        I was trying to find accident rates for TriMet last night. Metro puts it in their annual reports (2008 is the latest one posted):
        Passenger Accidents/Million Service Miles . . . 6.2
        Traffic Accidents/Million Service Miles . . . . 30.2
        Preventable Accidents per Million Service Miles . 9.0
        I couldn’t find the data for Portland but they seem to be in the news a lot more with respect to accidents. It also seemed like driver moral was much lower although I don’t have any hard data or personal experience to back this up. Portland does have a much better ratio of fare recovery but that can’t be explained by the difference in wages.

      4. I don’t think we can base everyone’s salary on the presumption that they marry, have two kids, and keep the wife at home.

      5. My point is that no one is getting “rich” off these supposedly high salaries, even if you add another income–say a $30k per year job which is the beginning wage of many professions, or an even lower paying hourly job. We’ve all seen stories about how Seattle teachers and fire fighters can’t afford to buy a house here. I guess we can add transit operators to the list. Doesn’t Metro require operators to have commute options other than the bus, too? That’s about $8k/year extra expense for a car, on average.

        That’s not to say isn’t not a living wage, it’s above in fact. But it’s certainly not “high” like executive pay or probably anywhere close to what most people on this blog make. (I make a bit more, and I deliberately chose a job with a lower salary to work in a laid back research environment.)

        The chart is hilarious: “Since the average KC household is about 2.4 persons, this column approximates the median for all households in the County.” Uh, I guess I should have used 2.4 person household??? Many transit operators are female too, John–or maybe you’re thinking of lesbian households. :)

      6. Yeah, but whether someone is getting rich or not doesn’t mean they’re not overpaid. The chart in the post above is a much better illustration of what a transit operator is expected to make: generally around the same as other transit operators in other big cities.

        My point in this thread isn’t to dismiss everyone’s concerns, but to make people think about what goes into a wage. The budget situation for a FT bus driver who is single is a lot different than one who is tending to her disabled husband and three kids, but unfortunately that personal budget is orthogonal to what someone is able to earn.

        For example, your wage wasn’t determined based on whether you own a home with a big mortgage payment or rent a cheap apartment in the Rainer Valley, and why should it be?

    1. More BS, read your contract gawker. progression is 3 years for full-time, plus they get half-credit for time spent as part-time. Your figures are also garbage, 73% of all drivers are at top wage. 90% of full-time drivers are at top wage. 46% of part-time drivers are at top step. For those of you who like to toss numbers around, try using current data.

      1. Thanks for the snuddy remarks there no1. The contract says 6 years for PTer, 5 for Full-Time (you can look it up online, I am fairly new and have read the thing inside and out). I might be slightly off with the FT operators, but I would say 90% is too high, unless some special entry-rate bypass program was done. I based it on the current contract, and current Seniority list from the last pick just a few weeks ago. The data is current. Also as far as wages, the most current information is from 2009. We are current, the question is are you?

  9. In the Publicola comment thread, Jeff Welch mentions he makes between $24,000 and $25,000 driving a bus. I think that’s nuts, because I make about that (a little more, actually) working in a grocery store. A high quality union grocery store, but groceries none-the-less. I think I work way more hours, though.

    1. He’s a part-time driver.

      Of course everyone would prefer to see their wage go up, that’s only natural. But it’s Jeff’s choice to work a part-time job with that wage. Maybe he places a non-monetary value on driving a bus. Maybe he will be able to advance in wage in the future, and he knows it. But if he could make more “value” by doing some other jobs, presumably he would just go and do that, right? That concept of opportunity cost is probably the best way of determining the monetary value of someone’s time, otherwise it’s entirely subjective.

  10. Wages seem high relative to other, more expensive cities, but I’m more worried about the cost of benefits.

    Health insurance, pensions, vacation/sick leave (how much do operators get?), and other benefits are really expensive.

    I’m expected to complete all of my work whether or not I’m there, so “paid” vacation time is nearly costless to my employer. Not so at Metro.

  11. Having worked for a union before, the one item that is also missing here is what’s called the step wage increases. While it may take an employee 6 years to get to the top wage mentioned in the image above, that same employee may be getting what’s called step wage increases where their wage is increasing every 6 months PLUS the cost of living increase each year(subject to performance review which is usually not that rigorous of review). When you add up the step wage increases and the cost of living increases, most employees are seeing real wage increases of 10 percent a year, not 4 percent, until they get to that top bracket. That’s where the real cost of labor is increasing on a yearly basis.

    This is all subject to the contract the workers are operating under of course. I don’t know Metro’s contract language or the specific wage tables, but the union I worked for was set up like what I described.

  12. Funny thing is, I’ve never once seen a fast food employee, who make about $20 an hour LESS than a Metro driver, treat a customer rudely. But I’ve seen plenty of Metro drivers be rude to people. So do you really get a higher level of professionalism with higher pay? No.

    1. 1855 Sam – Funny this is, I’ve never once seen a slave, whose only provision is food, shelter and clothing provided by their masters, treat a white man rudely. But I’ve seen plenty of tradesman who own their own labor be rude to people. So, do you really get a higher level of professionalism with any pay? No.

      1. Bus drivers should have more of a slave mentality. They are servants, after all. Public servants. And the word servant is Latin for slave.

      2. Well, it’s nice that you’ve revealed yourself as a [ad-hominem]

        PS Quem patrem, qui servos est?

      3. Sam, you have no idea what you are talking about. I come across many people every day who are self-centered, clueless, rude, and frequently intent on killing themselves. Maintaining a polite demeanor in the face of such stupidity is easier said than done.

        Metro trains us to be polite in all circumstances but human beings can only take so much. When somebody steps out in front of my bus in a zone on 520 to get me to stop, I can virtually guarantee you that they will receive a stern warning from me to *NOT EVER* do that again.

        Despite my lack of a “slave” mentality as you like to put it, I have *never* had a complaint about being rude.

  13. Anti-union tech geeks? What a shocker.

    [comment policy whining]

    The market is efficient in setting wages if knowledge is perfect. Too bad it isn’t, huh?

    1. What do you mean “efficient”? How can someone “efficiently” set a wage? How does the ATU help set wages “efficiently”? Since the local ATU has secured relatively high wages and high wage increases, does that imply that other bus agencies have been “inefficient” at setting wages?

      I think it would be productive if you could make an argument rather than an assertion.

      1. I don’t think efficiency actually exists in labor markets in the sense I will outline below.

        Theoretically, though, it is a race to the lowest sustainable price from the view of the owner/manager and the highest sustainable price from the view of the worker. In fact, if everyone had perfect knowledge and labor was completely mobile (ha!), then we could posit something like that.

        However, an organization (i.e. METRO) has considerably greater resources at its disposal for information discovery than any one individual – or are you denying that? Is a counterbalancing organization really so unfair? And, further, neither ATU nor METRO can see into the future, so there’s that lack of knowledge thing for both. And both are essentially geographical monopolies on employment/labor. Would you rather that there be only one monopoly (i.e. the owners)?

        Other bus agencies are being inefficient? How about the other ATU chapters – since they failed to secure a higher hourly wage are they being inefficient? You are looking at this from only the view of the managers/owners, then? And not that of the front-line workers? Is this not a perfect example of false consciousness?

        Finally, I would be VERY interested in finding out median annual compensation – I have a feeling it is much less apparently generous than the max hourly wage which is exercising you.

      2. punkrawker in this thread said that a majority of drivers have reached the max hourly wage, which sort of surprised me. I didn’t expect that at all.

        Yeah, the new non-unionized Metro hire might only get $20 an hour when Metro would really be willing to pay $25 an hour, but apparently that was good enough for the worker. Which is what matters when determining whether to accept a job or not, right? Once Pierce Transit or Greyhound or a trucking company really want drivers, maybe they can drive up the cost of labor. Keep in mind, no matter my interest in bus driving that Metro will never be able to afford me. I have more information than them on the wage I will accept.

        It could be characterized as asymmetric, but so is every purchase you make. Apple doesn’t know I’d be willing to pay $25 more for an iPhone. Starbucks doesn’t know you’d be willing to pay thirty cents more for a latte. You don’t feel a moral obligation to overpay for goods, why should the county feel a moral obligation to overpay for labor?

        Of course I understand why labor unions exist, and they often help the members of said unions secure good deals. I don’t think that has much to do with efficiency or information, though. It’s market power.

  14. Last week there was a thread about how PT’s service reduction actually added hours b/c it reduced the area required to be covered by the costly SHUTTLE service.

    In that thread someone stated that Metro actually goes beyond the ADA required minimums for their ACCESS service. Is this true? How much would be saved by reducing coverage to just the required minimum? How many overpaid (:p) drivers and maintance staff could be laid off? If the county and/or city wish to preserve the current coverage they should be required to reimburse Metro the difference out of their social service’s budget.

  15. typical management tactics during a contract year – attack the backbone of the system, the blue collar workers who truly do work by declaring operators wages are the problem with the budget. guarenteed that nearly every transit planner, scheduler, marketer, etc. in the office makes higher wages than the operators plus they have opportunities for merit pay in addition to COLA’s. the planners do not account for every minute of their work day, they can take a coffee break when stressed, and if they go home ‘sick’ after working 1-2 hours they don’t use hours from thier sick leave bank but still get paid for 8 hours. Maybe the office workers need the salary adjustment, not the operators.

    the charts comparing operators wages is poorly presented because it compares systems that are much smaller than Metro; eliminate olympia, Spokane, Vancouver WA, etc. for a more realistic perspective.

Comments are closed.