Raising revenue won’t be enough to get the MBTA back on track when it comes to its finances.
Increasing fares would only take a small dent out of the T’s deficit — expected to be $242 million in fiscal year 2017 — so the T is looking at shaving costs from within, a top T official said Monday.
“We need to be leaner and meaner,” MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve said in a meeting with reporters Monday morning.
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Moves the T could make on its own in the short term include eliminating jobs in the agency that have remained vacant or are deemed “non-essential,” beefing up the MBTA’s ad-selling business, scaling back trips on the handicap-accessible Ride outside of the coverage area required by law, according to a report. Also on the chopping block is late-night bus and train service.
Those changes could save as much as $121.6 million, the report said.
There are also longer-term options also on the table, some of which the T could not accomplish on its own and would need to involve negotiations. Those include deferring wage increases for union workers, scaling back costly weekend commuter rail service and tapping outside firms for help earning money on the T’s more than 50,000 parking spaces. Those options could save as much as $191.5 million, according to the report.
The T is also considering a plan that would offer older T employees incentives to retire early, Shortsleeve said. He said as many as 1,000 employees would be eligible. Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration led a similar retirement incentive program for state employees this year, but Shortsleeve said that did not include MBTA staff.
Shortsleeve said the agency is not considering layoffs and that the T is not interested in cutting down the number of people driving buses and trains.
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He said discussions with unions also include looking at the way T workers are paid overtime – possibly eliminating a policy that lets workers claim overtime if they worked more than 8 hours in one day, rather than if they worked more than a 40-hour work week.
But even if the T were to cut its deficit to zero, the amount of money it takes in still won’t match the cost of running the system in the future, Shortsleeve said. The deficit is projected to grow as long as costs increase year-over-year ahead of the amount the service brings in.
Much of the belt-tightening the T is considering, he said, is just controlling the rate at which the agency’s expenses are growing.
“When you find yourself in a hole the first thing you do is you stop digging,” Shortsleeve said.