The MBTA shells out more money on bus maintenance than any major transit system in the country, according to a new study.
The agency spent more than $44 per hour of bus operation (the federal standard of measurement) in 2015, according to the study, which was conducted by the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based public policy research center. The average across bus agencies was $25.97 per hour.
The MBTA tops all 25 major transit agencies when it comes to high bus costs. The study used 2015 data pulled from the National Transit Database. Last year's numbers were not available.
“We’re the number one most expensive, and there is a lot of room for improvement,” said Gregory Sullivan, research director at the Pioneer Institute and former inspector general of Massachusetts. “I think the MBTA board has got to step up and find efficiency where they can.”
The report comes at a time when the MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board is considering privatizing its bus maintenance services, a move that hassparked protestsfrom labor unions who are currently staffing the transit system.
The report looked at three maintenance areas: total per-hour costs, the total amount of salaries paid per hour and the total number of labor hours.
Along with topping total costs, the MBTA also had the highest labor salaries — 71.2 percent higher than the average — and came in second among all 25 agencies for the number of labor hours.
Sullivan compared the current MBTA system to a car repair shop with twice as many employees who earned twice the average salary, who charged customers twice the amount for repair.
“That would mean [when] fixing your car, every shop in the area costs $800, but you had to go to the T and it was $1,600,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would do that.”
Though weather and equipment age contribute to maintenance costs, Sullivan said when controlling for these factors (the institute compared the MBTA to Minneapolis-St. Paul in 2013), the MBTA still spends more in part because of its garages are often much higher staffed.
The MBTA could have saved $43.7 million if the agency had outsourced its bus maintenance to the private sector in 2015, according to the Pioneer Institute.
Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA'sacting general manager, said that these findings are consistent with their own privatization research.
“We believe we can save between 25 and 50 million dollars a year by having the best in class private companies to deliver some or all of our maintenance,” he said. “We think this is an opportune time for the MBTA to look at new and better bus maintenance models given as of July, 35 percent of the MBTA’s bus fleet will be brand new and under warranty.”
MBTA officials are still in the process of creating requests for proposals in order to get bids from the private market. Shortsleeve described this as a “complex process.”
The MBTA is also considering cutting weekend Commuter Rail service as well as some aspects of The Ride, the paratransit service, in order to save costs and close its budget gap.
Sullivan said that the savings from privatizing bus maintenance would “be more than enough to continue weekend service and provide paratransit disability service.”
Shortsleeve said that cutting areas of transit service is always a “last resort.”
“We don’t want to cut service,” he said. “Our focus is on best serving our riders and making sure every dollar is spent wisely.”