Business leader decries T service cuts
Says agency should hire private bus operators
THE HEAD of a Boston-based business group called the MBTA’s plan to scale back service because of a shortage of drivers “a step in the wrong direction” and urged the transit authority to take the necessary steps to maintain existing service levels, including hiring private bus companies to carry T passengers.
“If this requires temporary relief from the Pacheco law, Governor Baker and the Legislature should act swiftly,” said Rick Dimino, the president and CEO of A Better City.
Hiring private bus companies to provide service at the T would be very controversial. The so-called Pacheco law, named for the senator who proposed it, is a politically polarizing law that requires state officials to demonstrate that privatizing a public service would save money and provide an equal level of service.
The Legislature granted the T a three-year exemption from the Pacheco law in 2015 as part of emergency legislation to fix the transit authority, which had been forced to shut down amid a series of snowstorms. The Pacheco waiver sharply increased labor tension at the T, but the transit authority predicted privatization initiatives would ultimately save the agency about $400 million.
The MBTA is currently providing 93.5 percent of pre-COVID service levels, but roughly 1 in 20 trips are being canceled because of a shortage of drivers. The T announced on Tuesday that, starting December 19, the T will be scaling back service to 90.5 percent of pre-COVID levels. Service is being reduced on 31 bus routes and on the trolley line running between Ashmont Station in Dorchester and Mattapan.
Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the T, said the agency wants to restore service as quickly as possible and is moving aggressively to hire more drivers, offering to pay for commercial driver’s license testing and increasing wages for the period when drivers are being trained. He said the T is also considering sign-on and referral bonuses.
The T has even used a sister agency to help find potential job candidates. Using information supplied by fthe Registry of Motor Vehicles, T officials said the agency has messaged 30,000 drivers who already have their commercial driver’s licenses asking them to consider jobs at the T.Dimino said the T should be increasing service frequency, not reducing it, as the agency tries to entice riders back to the system. “There is sufficient funding at the MBTA to bring our vital mass transit systems back to pre-pandemic levels and assist the Commonwealth’s economic recovery. The entire region depends on frequent, reliable, affordable, and equitable public transit services,” Dimino said in a statement.
Ridership on the T is currently well below pre-COVID levels, with bus ridership the fastest to return at around 70 percent of pre-COVID levels. Subway ridership is in the 50 percent range.