"Dispatch: Where drivers get their assignments." Photo by Oran.

From the excellent Lindblom piece in last week’s Times about the Union’s contract negotiations with King County Metro:

[Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 president Paul] Bachtel said Metro isn’t like United Airlines, which needed wage concessions to stay in business. “They [drivers] don’t expect to give up wages, benefits, working conditions, when the transit agency could cut some of its services, and not take away pay.”

It should be noted that the issue really up for discussion isn’t outright wage cuts, but rather keeping minimum “cost-of-living” raises of 3% even when there is nearly no inflation, nor meaningful movement of the consumer price index, due to the recession. In other words, it’s expected that the cost-of-living will not increase much in coming years but the union president wants so-called “cost-of-living” increases — automatic pay raises — while tax revenues remain flat. It’s the union’s right to ask, but certainly the county has an obligation to get a good deal for the public. That’s balance is reflected in the spirit of the quote above: the ATU is asking for pay increases at the high cost of reduced bus service.

It’s about here in the discussion where we would usually choose our loyalties based on the question “Are bus drivers overpaid?” Or, are they paid too little? I don’t like to answer such leading questions, but a first answer has to be, “compared to what?” Do we look at peer agencies? Do we ask ourselves what a living wage is? And does a “living wage” include a house and a stay-at-home spouse? Or is renting an apartment still “living?” Those are complicated questions that no one, including me, is suited to answer for any other. I’m unprepared to make a value judgment about who “deserves” what pay. Most of us know, of course, that pay is earned; its first-order approximation is probably opportunity cost [1].

Continued after the jump…

According to the Times, Community Transit’s top wage is $25.35, Pierce Transit: $25.50, Everett Transit: $26.38, WTA in Bellingham: $24.01, Vancouver, WA: $23.79, Spokane: $22.68, and Olympia: $22.58. King County Metro’s is much higher than the rest of the agencies in the region at $28.47. Nationally, only Boston and San Jose drivers have higher top wages than our drivers. (It takes about five years before a full-time drivers reaches the top wage.)

Bus driver's controls. Photo by VeloBusDriver.

It’s true that part-time drivers make less. They are also denied overtime work that usually goes to full-time operators. This is certainly bad policy, and the county should press to fix this wasteful bit of the current contract. Part-time union members should question the ATU’s position on this matter because it clearly favors full-time operators at the expensive of part-timers.

But full-time wages are clearly not unjustly low. While each of us would probably enjoy a raise, the union will likely have to choose between relatively stagnant [2] wages that grow only with inflation, or layoffs. The public has to choose between service cuts or less optimal labor conditions. Though I don’t think outright cutting wages is worthwhile, I think giving even 3% raises in this climate is unreasonable. So I think the county should move for no floor on the cost-of-living raises in the new contract that’s now under negotiation. Given that Metro’s wages are already higher than other peer agencies, the most prudent thing to do would be to grow wages only with inflation; that means no 3% minimum.

Outside of pure wages, it is also not unreasonable that the drivers union chooses between a lesser caliber of health insurance or bearing the burden of some of its cost. This move wouldn’t reflect a desire to deny drivers of quality care, but rather the conclusion that the skyrocketing costs of health care lead to the need for rational choices having to be with finite resources. If this unlikely change were to occur, it might make sense to give wage increases above inflation and the news would change some of the conclusions I reached above.

It seems the ATU has made a strategic decision to be aggressive and out-front of any sort of differences between the last contract and this one, even though 2005 was a much rosier economic climate than today. This posturing will likely force the contract into arbitration, but the drivers union cannot strike because of state law. The probable spirit of compromise coming from a third-party arbitrator would certainly benefit the group who postures the strongest. On the other hand, some bus drivers surely feel the county, Metro’s Transit Task Force, and even the state are posturing strongly against labor’s demands.


[1] That approximation could be refined by the supply and demand of a particular labor market. Further refinements could be looking at the stickiness of wages, upward wage pressure that preserves the currently employed, and market power influences (such as the “only plant/grocery store/bus agency in town” or a union). Opportunity cost for bus drivers could be estimated from what peer agencies pay.

[2] Stagnant is such a bad, negative term. But is it all that bad? If all driver wages nation-wide stayed stagnant but kept with inflation, then we’d still have local drivers that are paid well compared to the rest of the nation’s, and that is not a bad position for our drivers to be in.

Correction: An earlier version of this blog post stated that the COLA floor was 2%. It is 3% in the current contract.

76 Replies to “Transit Union President: Cut Bus Service for Driver Pay”

  1. I think cooler heads will prevail, after all the side shows have run there course. Metro is no different than any other public agency facing dwindling resources and higher demands. When times were good, drivers benefited. Now, with unprecedented budget shortfalls, all public employees are being asked to save, save, save. It’s in there own best interest to become more efficient and that includes everything from light bulbs to top management compensation – drivers included.
    Bottom line here should be the riders and non-riders that pay the bills. Give them good service, at reasonable costs. That’s how you grow a business.

  2. I wouldn’t mind preserving driver pay by cutting badly unproductive service, and if it all works out the RTTF process might find enough savings to quiet talk of wage cuts. Nonetheless it’s ridiculous to expect automatic COLAs in a flat to deflationary economy. Agencies don’t exist to employ operators, they exist to provide good service. Cutting frequency on decent routes would be unacceptable.

    1. Oh and let’s remember that if deflation truly takes hold for a while, FLAT wages constitute a raise in terms of purchasing power. Adding a nominal rate raise on top of that would be double-dipping…

      1. My take is that while the housing market remains bleak, overall deflation is really not likely to occur. Oil prices are still forecast to rise significantly. The US Dollar is expected to devalue over time and because of the massive government debts and how they are financing them, (printing money) currency inflation is bound to happen.

        Eventually, overall housing stock will come back into parity with demand and prices will level off though the proportion of renters vs. home ownership is likely to increase.

        As I’ve “loosely” examined above, even though the CPI seems to indicate a general softening of prices in many categories, the anecdotal evidence shows that the costs of the things one needs to live are rising in surprising ways not captured by the CPI and the BLI admits the CPI is not an overall indicator of the actual cost of living index.

      2. Charles, I hate to be a jerk, but I just don’t get where this analysis is coming from! Of course low housing values increase the risk of deflation — it’s a loss of wealth. Who is predicting oil prices to rise? Certainly not the market. The dollar may lose value over time, but the most immediate risk is a deflationary cycle. The government is borrowing money, not printing it. The Fed has increased the money supply but it’s simplistic to say this leads directly to inflation: managing the money supply is the very job of the Federal Reserve, and many believe that it’s disinterest in monetary policy led directly to the great depression.

        Your anecdotal evidence below didn’t show that the CPI doesn’t capture certain costs; rather, your evidence just directly contradicted the CPI’s measures. The claim your anecdotes make is that the CPI is simply incorrect, not that it misses many things. The quote that the BLS had about the CPI vs. cost-of-living mentioned things like health, quality of life, and environment which are difficult to measure in dollar terms. It’s not like the CPI forgot about rent or gas or clothes or food.

        For the type of remarks you’re making I would expect to see substantial evidence, but instead I’m left very skeptical (obviously).

      3. Analysis I’ve read indicates that ‘sticky’ effects tend to make outright deflation take quite a long time to kick in.

        However, CPI inflation is almost certain to be well below 2%, probably 0.5% – 1.5%, for several years. And this *is* likely to be typically representative of the cost of living.

        Grant the bus drivers inflation COLAs, certainly but giving them a wage increase above the inflation rate– which is what they’re demanding — is inappropriate.

    1. It’s part of the compensation package, paid into the State Retirement System, with an employee/employer match program. One of the things that drives the wage costs up, is the ability for the most senior drivers to get 1st dibs at most overtime and extra shuttle work.
      Retirement pay is calculated on the highest wage paid for 5 years running. That’s a huge incentive for senior drivers to work an insane number of hours before they ‘bail out’, ensuring higher retirement benefits forever. This comes at the expense of doling out work to less senior full time and all part time drivers, who generally are at the lower pay scales, and definitely work fewer hours.
      Some accommodations need to address this imbalance to workforce and workload.

      1. “ensuring higher retirement benefits forever”

        Well, at least until they die. I suspect if you studied retired drivers with a more balanced life vs. those who work insane hours for their last 5 years you would find that the overtime scroungers would have a significantly shorter lifespan. Whether that is true and whether the financial costs balance out are two entirely separate questions.

        Either way, I don’t care for the system because of this issue. Creating an artificial incentive to beat yourself to death that then puts the taxpayer on the hook to fund an oversized retirement doesn’t seem good for either party.

      2. Standard retirement age is 65 under PERS2/PERS3, the retirement plan which most drivers belong to. You can retire earlier, with a reduction in benefits; the size of the reduction depends on your years of service; you take a pretty substantial reduction if you don’t have at least 30 years in the PERS system. Regarding contributions into PERS, currently the employer contributes 5.31% of the employee’s gross pay, and the employee pays 3.9%. These percentages change periodically, however.

  3. I don’t begrudge the drivers their pay (especially the brave folks driving routes like the 358) but I think it’s unrealistic for any employee to expect to continue to be insulated from the annual double-digit increases employers are seeing in health insurance premiums.

    1. The easiest way I see to control the growing cost of benefits is to control the number of drivers needed. And the best way to control number of drivers needed is to control operator hours.

      Reduce deadhead.
      Make use of Link and Sounder with truncation.
      Combine routes to increase connectivity and frequency as a tradeoff for speed.
      Push forward faster on stop consolidations, to shrink route travel time.
      Eliminate paper transfers to reduce the incentive to keep fumbling for change, which adds to every route’s travel time.
      Fix the algorithm and stop placements in the tunnel so buses can move more quickly.

      And put the OT-by-the-day rule on the table. If part-timers are more eligible for extra work, the need for the COLI will be greatly diminished. And you’ll have fewer worn-out full-timers pushing to the edge of their CDL safety limits.

      Going after the COLI itself is picking the wrong battle.

  4. I think it is more important to look at the average hourly wage plus benifits unless most drivers are making the maximum. In general I would just like to have more information about this. You can alway slice and dice data to say what you want but if you can look through it all you can get a better idea of what really is happening.

      1. That certainly should be looked at. A big thing is they aren’t unionized and from my understanding the execuitive has already frozen salaries for everyone that he can do it too.

      2. Adam,

        Many managers and supervisors certainly are unionized. First line supervisors are represented by the same union as the drivers (ATU 587). The Chiefs and others are represented by IFPTE Local 17. As to those managers, administrators and executives who aren’t unionized – so what? By the way – are folks aware that the County Council and many others at the office of the Executive have seen a regular 6% COLA for many years?

        Freezing the salaries of folks earning over $100K doesn’t impress me a whole lot. Feel free to freeze my gross wages at the same level.

      3. Because management’s and non union’s salaries and benefits have or are soon to be cut as well. And usually you dont want to keep the two’s benefits packages too far apart to keep everyone happy. You definatly dont want to alienate your employees by making draconian cuts (especally if the union starts to live high on the hog) even though the public thinks that all government employees should make virtually nothing and recieve no benefits while under the public employ. /end of rant

    1. Most full-time drivers do earn the maximum, from what I’ve read. I wish I could cite a source but I think it’s something like 63%. I could be misremembering.

      We don’t have other data such as median hourly wage, but why is it important? What are we going to do with this information? Unless our starting wage is significantly less than peer cities — I don’t see how it can be — then the only use I can think of is for us to determine whether or not the median wage is “good enough.” Above, I make the argument that it is not for us to decide whether someone earns “enough” but for the people earning that money themselves to decide. And then the public must keep in mind that no one would turn down a raise.

  5. TCRP report 49 was published some years ago and sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration but on page 3 the study reports notes: “Although AC transit was able to balance its budget by service reductions which saved $4.8 million, the economic impact on riders was $48.1 million in lost income and added travel expenses”. AC Transit is in Oakland, CA.

    If the union wants the raise then it is time to open the market and let some competition in. Their raise seems more important to them then the harm they’ll do to others by cutting services. If they don’t care about the harm they’ll do then why should they be protected from competition?

    1. I think that is an important note to make. Unions are looking out for their union members. You see the same thing with teacher unions. They oppose moves that are trying to improve our education system because they see it as bad for themselves.

      It would be nice if we had a robust riders union to look out for the best interest of riders.

      1. Paul Bachtel isn’t looking out for anyone but Paul Bachtel. His comments are not reflective of the views of mainstream bus drivers.

  6. Paul Bachtel is an embarassment. His expressed views do not represent those of mainstream operators. Operators do not favor service cuts, we want service expansion – just like the rest of the community. The position of most operators is that the money to do so exists, but is being wasted and other avenues of revenue not fully explored.

    1. “Its a darn good thing we passed Transit NOW!”

      Yes, it is. “Transit NOW!” has already added service across the system, not just the “RapidRide” lines that are only just starting to roll out. Do you remember all the schedules with “service paid for by Transit NOW!” on them?

      Don’t forget that this budget crisis is being caused by a *massive* reduction in sales-tax revenue caused by the worst recession since the Great Depression.

      1. I remember TransitNOW offering hundreds of thousands of service hours that never materialized, expansions that were later rescinded, “public-private” partnerships that expanded horribly labyrinthine routes like the 25 and 75, promises of 15-minute service on “core” routes that wound up translating to 2 extra trips, etc., etc., etc.

        Not to mention the RapidRide that isn’t rapid.

        Ever before the economy crashed, it was a classic over-promise-and-under-deliver moment. The next time a funding initiative is needed, people will notice that they’ve been paying this supplemental, ultra-regressive sales tax for years with no discernible benefit to their mobility.

      2. d.p – and without TransitNOW, we’d be in even worse shape now. It costs as much as it costs to run the service we do.

      3. Oh, Ben, I know you know better than that. Poor implementation is Metro’s calling card. It’s not that “it costs as much as it costs to run the service we do;” it’s that “it costs as much as it costs to run the service the way we do.”

        TransitNow implementation was full of things like:

        – Making the #1 a one-seat ride, scheduled in a way that duplicates rather than complements other Lower Queen Anne service

        – The #25/75/Children’s Hospital waste (I’m pretty sure we had to pick up half the tab on that “partnership)

        – Starting rush hour service on a handful of routes at 2:45 instead of 3:15 (big deal, not to mention that service still becomes atrocious at 6:15)

        – Doubling #8 service for a few hours a day (during which it still can take 40 minutes from L.Q.A. to Capitol Hill, thanks to not having implemented any stop-placement revisions or having told drivers to get the #&$@ out of the I-5 Southbound-headed right lane)

        – And, last but certainly not least, RapidRide service that offers no improvement in speed (and on some lines, no improvement in frequency)

      4. All that ever needs to be said about the relationship between Metro, driver pay/hours, and service provided, was inadvertently said at the end of this article in the otherwise transit-hostile Seattle Times:

        “More than most big-city agencies, Metro focuses its driver hours to serve the most commuters — which translates into irregular shift schedules and hundreds of part-timers who make less than the average pay.”
        (from http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012834601_metrodriver08m.html )

        By focusing on individual commutes rather than urban connectivity — something perpetuated in the way TransitNow funds have been used — we screw many drivers just as badly as we screw ourselves.

  7. While there are statistical measures of inflation rates, they are skewed by factors that mask the true cost of living. The rapid reduction in the price of gas in 2009 masked marked increases in a number of things people have to pay for that may not be tracked by such statistics.

    Taxes by local and state governments have gone up to try to make up for reductions in sales tax receipts and revenue sharing. Costs for many things including insurance, both health and auto has gone up. The cost of renting an auto for a week at sea-tac has gone up about 250%. Rent in many places has skyrocketed, food and restaurant meals have increased markedly, imported clothing and goods have increased markedly. The cost of doctor visit co-pays, the drug co-pays, the premium shares, the deductables have all gone up in the last 3 years. So much so that many people and companies can no longer afford health care plans and risk going with out it.

    Also, while there has been substantial deflation in the housing market, this is also masking the cost of everything else. Oil prices have risen steadily over the past year and will again approach triple digit prices per barrel probably within 2 years. This translates to $7/gal gas prices. The US Dollar will most likely devalue against other currencies which will make imported goods more expensive and increase demand for locally produced goods also making them more expensive.

    I don’t begrudge the Bus drivers pay it is a modest middle class wage by 21st century standards. The system of seniority that advantages older workers is certainly inverted from that found in non-union companies where experienced “productive” older workers are routinely discarded in favor of inexperienced “cheaper” workers.

    I think people would do better rather than expressing envy and resentment at the bus drivers pay situation to make choices so that they have the same bargaining power that bus drivers have. It means swallowing perhaps misplaced libertarian notions that you alone can bargain effectively for a fair wage with a mega corporation.

    And yes, I’m cognizant that our transit entities will have to make tough choices in balancing their budgets but attacks on fair wages and against unions should be resisted.

    1. I think most of the factors you spoke about are represented in the consumer-price-index, which is a pretty standard measure for cost of living increases. Rising gas prices, food prices, clothing prices, housing prices, etc. would all be covered under that metric. The measure if flat. It may not take into account deleveraging, but that deleveraging has market effects elsewhere that are accounted for, right?

      Your comment is hand-wavy and I think it would be better with some more evidence supporting your claims. I’m skeptical that there exists measures of inflation that don’t take into account the price level due to current valuation, for example! I mean, that is the very point of measuring inflation.

      1. And cost-of-living-increases should probably not hedge against market downswings, because I’m not sure if my retirement portfolio getting worse makes it so milk is more expensive, and an index taking into account market values would subsidize risk takers from those who save their money or those consume a lot.

      2. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics website:

        Is the CPI a cost-of-living index?

        The CPI frequently is called a cost-of-living index, but it differs in important ways from a complete cost-of-living measure. BLS has for some time used a cost-of-living framework in making practical decisions about questions that arise in constructing the CPI. A cost-of-living index is a conceptual measurement goal, however, and not a straightforward alternative to the CPI. A cost-of-living index would measure changes over time in the amount that consumers need to spend to reach a certain utility level or standard of living. Both the CPI and a cost-of-living index would reflect changes in the prices of goods and services, such as food and clothing, that are directly purchased in the marketplace; but a complete cost-of-living index would go beyond this role to also take into account changes in other governmental or environmental factors that affect consumers’ well-being. It is very difficult to determine the proper treatment of public goods, such as safety and education, and other broad concerns, such as health, water quality, and crime, that would constitute a complete cost-of-living framework.

        This would seem to jive with my anecdotal experience. The things people have to buy to live have gotten more expensive. I’ll list some items from the CPI with some interesting data to discuss.

        % increases from June 2009 to June 2010

        Public transport 10.9
        Doesn’t take much for a fare increase on the bus to equal a major percentage hike.

        State motor vehicle registration fees 11.1
        airline fares 14.1

        gas all types 3.8 ??? How is this possible? In my city alone the price has increased during this time period by approximately 21%

        intercity train fare 10.8

        Medical care 3.5 — I suppose the prices charged by providers hasn’t risen much.

        Health insurance -3.5 — Negative growth? Very laughable. The only way this could have occurred is by more people losing their insurance. But neither this nor the previous category accounts for increases in deductibles, employee premium share, co-pays, exclusions from formularies, or excluded covered items that must come out of pocket. Many insurance companies announced double digit rate increases planned for 2011.

        TV -25 – Yes but most people don’t buy a TV every year. Mine are 20 and 10 years old.

        Recreation -7

        movie admissions 2.3

        sporting goods 3.9

        Tuition 4.8 ??? Many places experienced double digit tuition increases
        tuition skyrockets http://bit.ly/9aSZpx UW 14% hike? http://bit.ly/bWOfOe

        postage 1.4

        delivery services 17.2

        Men and boys apparel -4
        Men’s apparel .8 So kids clothes are cheaper but they socked it to the guys. Particularly men’s suits + 5.4.
        Women’s apparel -1.2

        My anecdotal experience are that some clothes on the tables at Costco are about 15% higher than last year. (knit shirts or pants $14.99 now versus $12.99 a year ago)

      3. We certainly cannot give everyone arbitrary raises because we can’t measure the cost-of-living. And note that in the post, I tackled the fact that the “cost of living” is something entirely subjective — of course we can’t measure it directly.

        I’m arguing that if the CPI is a fine index for determining “cost-of-living” pay raises when the economy is doing good, then it should be fine even when the statistics come out to be 0%. Does a floor of 2% have any specific rationale behind it, or is our job as the public to fund public labor pay raises to boost the middle class?

    2. I agree that the standard inflation measure does not take into account that some things rise faster than others, so the necessities of life (food) often exceeed inflation while unnecessary durable goods (furniture) follow inflation. I’ve seen prices at supermarkets and restaurants increase since 2008 in spite of the “zero inflation” environment. But where has rent skyrocketed? In Seattle, 10% rent cuts or a free month have been the norm during that time, although that may (?) be ending now.

      1. The Consumer Price Index is actually a fairly good proxy for the cost of living faced by the average person. And it has actually been running higher than some other indexes of inflation — as you’d expect given that staples prices are more expensive than other items right now.

  8. In (partial) defense of Bachtel, I don’t think he’s quite calling to gut the bus service.
    In the regional task force meetings, the scenarios from Metro managers show they’re contemplating dropping trips that average only 15 boardings/hour, if applied equally through subareas – to meet the whole budget shortfall.
    Each 1 percent boost in driver wages adds maybe $2m to appx. $600m annual Metro costs. So although driver raises are part of the picture, there’s much more happening with fuel, technicians, management expense, and other programs, so a couple COLA points alone won’t make or break the agency.
    — Mike Lindblom, Seattle Times

    1. But Bachtel is saying that he would reduce driver jobs and hurt riders by cutting service, so that the more senior drivers can have a 2% raise.

      This at a time when many people have had their wages cut, and there is no inflation. I would think the drivers and riding public would be better served by maintaining service and jobs even if they have to give up a 2% raise.

      It’s an arrogant position to take in this economy, and shows disdain for both riders and taxpayers, and junior drivers. It’s not a wise time to take that position.

    2. No one action will make or break the agency, but that doesn’t mean any given action is appropriate.

    3. I really don’t see “oh, but it’s so little” as a good justification. That’s like the justification City Council is using for MOHAI money.

      1. Not to mention the issue isn’t just the 2% raise, but also the screwing over of the part timers so the old timers can max out their OT in prep for retirement.

  9. From reading the Puget Sound Transit Operators blog linked below, it seems they’re a bit panicked over the attention the quote has gotten and aren’t viewing it very favorably. The conservative wheels are turning over this, so this whole flap may end poorly for everyone when it filters down into the KC Council.

    Service cuts and pay cuts for everyone! Hurrah!

  10. I see Bachtel’s quote as just union politics. 587 is in the middle of negotiating a contract so of course he is going to be hardline. He can’t just come out and say “sure cut bus driver pay to retain routes.” If he did that the drivers would go after his head.

    1. @justanotherguy,

      The problem is that Bachtel’s suggestion plays into the hands of folks who see transit expansion in the context of the current contractd negotiation as an either/or two-sided issue. EITHER drivers get good pay and benefits OR we have enough funding to expand transit. That is a false dichotomy. There are numerous other factors, including funding streams and other expenditures.

  11. The cost of living should be determined by the price of necessities, not the price of yachts. My food costs and rent continue to grow apace. Jim Hightower once talked about the difference between the Dow Jones Average and the Doug Jones Average.

    I will say that if the union has a true love for social equity, it will seek something more like a flat COLI, rather than a percentage-based COLI. If it really is a COLI, it is the same for everyone, regardless of income.

    I’d like to see management offer the COLI in exchange for alterations to the overtime system. Paying overtime by the day means struggling part-timers can never get work.

  12. How about a sliding bus far system.

    On routes that are less traveled, if people really want a bus, let them pay full value…the unsubsidized amount it actually costs to run the bus.

    So, a heavily used route like the 7x buses would be same price, but outlying buses that are infrequently used could charge $5 or $10 per ride.

    1. We don’t make drivers pay the full cost of their driving. And not just the direct costs of building infrastructure which everyone subsidizes, but other indirect costs as well. For example, we don’t charge drivers for congestion when that is an obvious negative externality of driving. Same for pollution.

      If we had a free market in transportation, that would be fine, but we don’t, so bus riders should operate on the same playing field as drivers. That doesn’t mean unproductive routes should stick around necessarily but that your solution isn’t realistic.

      1. We could subsidize Riders instead of Routes.

        For example, if a person could not afford an expensive to operate, low volume exurban bus route, then he could be given various scripts to offset the costs.

        This would allow buses to respond to the need, rather than create a need and then look for riders (or worse, create social engineering to densify in order to justify the transit).

      2. John Bailo,

        That’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure how well it would work in practice. In particular, what I’d expect to happen is that these low-volume unproductive routes would quickly rise in price so much that they would lose half of their already-low ridership, thus driving fares even higher. Eventually, the fare would get so high that only the most dedicated users (or, more likely, people with subsidized transit passes from employers) would use it, and the route would be even more inefficient than ever. Or, if the routes simply couldn’t get enough passengers to be profitable, it might fold.

        The necessary solution, in our world of scarce resources, is to eliminate these inefficient routes. Rather than set up a complicated voucher system which would eventually result in many of the routes’ cancellation, I’d rather just see us scrap the routes directly.

      3. I agree with you.

        Ultimately, I think on demand taxi services are the best solution for those who cannot drive, but live in these remote areas.

        For those who can drive, but cannot afford cars, I would like to see a “Section 9” that lets more people get subsidized to buy a (good) car. Similar to Section 8 for apartments and subprimes for houses (do we still do those any more? they make more sense now that houses prices have normalized).

  13. I’ve also come to the conclusion that all the fancy gimmics bought in the past few years have also increased the cost of operating the service. Not the Hybrid Electric/CNG/Trolley stuff, but the fluff. Lets compare an old 2000 series MAN artic vs. a new Rapid Ride coach. Basic coach parts aside, you are paying extra for the “BRT” look. The LFR look would suffice just as as well (and is better in my opinion), without single sheet windshields IIRC, better visibility on the destination sign, etc. The Interior, the old MAN seated around 64 as memory serves, the DE60A, 45 or so if i counted right. a great Loss of capasity there which could require extra service. The seats, basic low back national cushions, with a durable brown upolstory and thin padding. the DE60A, high back American’s, with deep padding. Windows, tinted vs. non tinted, no ORCA so probally 10-15k less worth of onboard equipment (thats not even including the yearly upkeep that has to be paid), just a simple registering farebox in later years and a mechanical dump before that. The few dollars more a to purchase this stuff does add up in a large fleet, but what really adds up is the cost of maintaining it over a fifteen year lifecycle. The tall seats probally get cut up and grungy more than the old low back ones, requiring putting the coach OOS and spending extra time to replace the seat, and repair the old one. If the large windshield gets damaged its probally twice as much atleast to replace than a split design, the tinted windows add more cost to replace as years go on (have to stock another type glass, and either have it tinted after the fact or from the factory (both at added fees) and the list goes on. Just some food for thought. We all like nice buses, but at the end of the day they provide transportation and mabye its time we start looking at keeping them a little more on the simple side again.

    1. I think you’re onto something.

      There are very few credible sources to say “this technology will increase your ridership by XX percent”.

      What you can prove is that buses are more expensive to buy and operate now as a result of the added technology.

      Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of what I see on the buses, but ultimately the key question is missed – does this improvement increase ridership…

    2. If it were implemented correctly, a full all-ORCA system would speed things up and have long-term benefits… but by all accounts it hasn’t done so. Hmm.

      There’s a “half measures” problem. The big win from going to something like ORCA is eliminating cash handling from the buses *entirely*, while the smaller win comes from simplified fare structures and easier transfers. Unfortunately discouraging adoption with a $5 initial-purchase fee, retaining cash handling parallel to card usage, and not integrating fare structures mean that none of these benefits have been realized. There are other cities with the same problem.

  14. New comment system is a little confusing where it puts things. But this is a response to John Jensen.

    I posit that the CPI is constructed to dampen the perception of inflation by weighting items that have wide variability in pricing (such as oil prices or housing) against items that average people must pay for to live (food, clothing, insurance, health care, taxes). I’ve felt this was so for a long time but your request that I provide some evidence has prompted me to find some validation by the economist Walter J Williams who runs the website “Shadow Government Statistics” which addresses my supposition (and then some!) http://bit.ly/tKXuG The author claims that changes to the CPI were made during the Clinton administration that skewed reporting. He knows how it has affected the reporting because he was engaged by a large aerospace firm to fix an econometric model that relied on the CPI but was then broken by those changes.

    In a similar vain, the economy of the late and post Clinton era and early Bush era were generally perceived as boom times for the U.S. of A., however a report came out this week in the Wall Street Journal ( http://bit.ly/d4FFvv ) that said that “middle class” incomes fell 5% in the last 10 years. So, the wealth of the country has supposedly increased, but the portion earned by the vast majority of Americans has shrunk.

    As for the forecasts about oil prices, I follow the Canadian energy economist Jeff Rubin (http://bit.ly/9qcAHy) who has correctly predicted the previous 2 oil price shocks and now forecasts that we will see a return to triple digit oil prices within 24 months. His predictions have significant implications for us in how we shape our industrial, transportation, climate and energy policies going forward. For many here who hate suburbs, he predicts their demise at the hands of the market as shaped by energy prices. He also radically predicts the end of globalization due to high energy prices making it impractical to ship low value commodity goods overseas.

    1. I’m going to make one very important point, though: practically all of the high-expense portions of the cost of living, right now, are driven by oil prices. This includes food (fertilizer and transportation for it), transportation (duh), and clothing (artificial fibers, fertilizer for natural fibers, transportation for it). Though not medical care.

      Accordingly the “real” cost of living tracks the price of oil frighteningly closely. To the extent that the CPI misreports, the price of oil often gives the true result.

      Anyone who wants to reduce their cost of living needs to disconnect from oil as much as they can manage.

      1. Or, the comparatively low price of oil is what keeps the cost of living the lifestyle you’re used to (store bought cloths, cheap food always “in season”, all forms of transportation) affordable. The fact is there isn’t a cheaper alternative. Although in the long run we are likely paying a very heavy price in destruction of land through over farming and in the short term losing a lot of industry at home because of the cheap cost of transporation.

  15. The supreme irony here is that Metro is raising fares, and then they turn around and claim that the cost of living is not going up.

    Major disconnect.

  16. Excellent article, especially “compared to what?” Bus drivers who haven’t reached the top of their pay grade get two pay raises: one for longevity, which is based on number of miles driven, the other for cost of living (COLA). The more one drives, the sooner the longevity increase happens. It’s my understanding that, without working overtime, this happens every 12 months. The COLA is based on whatever rate that they’re making at the time. In addition to this, drivers get medical benefits with no premiums that cover themselves and their families. Compared to what? Other agencies typically do similar. This is why transit agencies are in financial trouble, because their wage and benefit growth exceed inflation every year for everybody, high performer or low performer. For their administrative staff, they get the same two types of pay increases every 12 months, the same benefits. Everybody reaches the top of their grade, 120% of average. The real world: you’re lucky if you get one pay raise a year, it’s based on merit, and you’re lucky if your employer pays 75% of your premiums. Only the best performers reach the top of their pay grades. The question really is can we afford to pay Cadillac pay and benefits any more, and if we want to, where do we take the tax money from: other programs or new taxes, or what do we cut?

    1. Bus drivers do NOT get a raise for “number of miles driven”. Not sure how you came by that. Also not sure where you’re getting the “120% of average figure. If you’re going to put out arguments – better check your facts.

  17. It isn’t the “Cadillac pay” or “Cadillac benefits”. It’s the Cadillac service, some of which isn’t really Cadillac service.

    Cut deadhead. Cut duplicate-head. Cut out stops that lengthen routes unnecessarily. Cut paper transfers that reward the change fumbling that slows down routes. Cut the RFA, to significantly reduce fare evasion.

    Cut overtime created by the old contract.

    And, oh yeah, cut lazy management, too, since they won’t make the effort to find the efficiencies that can reduce the need for more operators.

    If you must mess with the COLA, make it flat, instead of percentage-based, and do the math to figure out how to benefit a majority of the ATU bargaining unit membership. It doesn’t take a college degree to crunch those numbers.

  18. “Cut paper transfers that reward the change fumbling that slows down routes.”

    Or charge a flat $3 for paper. That said, I sometimes feel that change fumbling should be a caning offense. (I saw you standing at the curb for the past block and a half plus a light cycle and you’re JUST GETTING YOUR WALLET OUT NOW!?) For this bus driver, who happens to also ride the bus a lot, it’s like fingernails on a chalk board.

    1. Mr. Desmond’s talk about the cost of benefits, while failing to search for service efficiencies is an even bigger fingernail on the chalkboard, trying to drown out the pointings out of management inefficiency, and other contractual problems that incentivize unsafe practices and make it hard for our numerous part-time operators to get by.

  19. If Desmond is talking about the cost of benefits, I haven’t heard it. Rather, those costs are being scrutinized at every level of government.

    Where part-time drivers are allowed to work more hours, it helps out tremendously since those of us with benefits are probably the most expensive operators on a per hour basis since the cost of benefits are spread over a shorter work day. But full-timers shouldn’t worry, there will be plenty of overtime left over. That said, if Metro were able to fully utilize part-time drivers, you could kiss all bonus time goodbye. It may suck, but that’s better than having fellow union members laid off.

  20. For the uninitiated, “bonus time” is time a driver is paid – for doing nothing. Since full time Operators have an 8 hour daily guarantee, and not all assignments stretch to 8 hours or more (especially Extra board assignments), many drivers are paid for example for 8 hours when they may only work 5.

    “Sucks” to not be paid for not working? Uh – yeah.

    1. I’d be careful classifying the number of drivers with that much bonus time as “many”. Extra board operators may end up with a couple of 2.5 hour “trippers” from time to time. This is typically part-time work which results in 3 hours of bonus time when assigned to a full-time driver. However, I don’t see that very often.

  21. Ahhhhhh hemmmmm…..is this thing on???

    I have been riding the bus for 40+ years and the one thing that strikes fear in riders such as I is the words “reduce service”!!!!

    When “TransitNOW” schedules came out on my ONLY local route – the 101 all they added was a trip in the AM and a trip in the PM….this to me was a TOTAL joke!! Adding to the AM really has no affect on me, but it did for others, But the one added trip in the PM is a total joke!!! The 106, which is outside my immediate service are runs until 1:18AM at the end of the line – SB to Renton, yet the last 101 is 10:49 from the end of the line. SO yeah, transit now REALLY helped change my life – NOT!!!! I woulda LOVED to have seen the cost it took to come up with this genius plan used instead to run the 101 until at least 1AM like the 106, instead of what we have now! Those of us who live on the West side of Skyway have been getting shafted for YEARS while we watch people like Paul Bactel spout off about cutting service and increasing driver pay!

    To say I’m one pissed off bus rider is an understatement!!!

    All the numbers above mean nada to me….all I wanna see is good service on my bus, and for people to stop arguing about COLA’s COLI’s etc. There are plenty of us out here in the REAL world, where we’re luckk to make 10-12 bucks an hr. It’s no wonder so many people refuse to pay their fares!!!!

  22. Well written article John. This quote is scary:

    Bachtel said Metro isn’t like United Airlines, which needed wage concessions to stay in business.

    Clearly the thought process is, “We’re the government sector and efficiency and market forces don’t apply.” I’m always leary of looking a wages, especially top wages. The benefit package is what matters the most. Long term costs of a pension and health care overshadow direct wages.

    likely have to choose between relatively stagnant [2] wages that grow only with inflation, or layoffs.

    I agree, that is the most likely scenario. But I think what the Union perceives this as is a “revenue problem” (i.e. hike taxes, “problem” solved).

    also not unreasonable that the drivers union chooses between a lesser caliber of health insurance or bearing the burden of some of its cost.

    There is a way to have both… cut waste. Many private sector companies are offering multiple heath care plans. Insurance isn’t a one size fits all. A young, healthy individual without a family is looking for catastrophic care. Someone with a family and a mortgage needs a higher cost but more predicable incurred cost plan. Our company started offering an HSA where, if you accept some of the risk you get money paid back to you that goes into an account that builds if you don’t use it and is essentially a “Health IRA” that is yours to keep. That’s a huge incentive to not just go to the doctor because you have a sore throat and it’s only a $10 copay.

    The probable spirit of compromise coming from a third-party arbitrator would certainly benefit the group who postures the strongest.

    That’s not my understanding of arbitration. I think the arbitrator picks one or the other proposals lock stock and barrel. The one that’s farthest from a good compromise will lose.

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