MA: MBTA Throws Its "Wait" Around; Overtime Crackdown Leaves Riders in Lurch

MBTA riders are more likely to wait longer for their next bus as the cash-strapped agency cracks down on overtime spending.

The T acknowledged yesterday that because of fiscal woes it is no longer routinely 'subbing' for absent bus drivers.

'It's not fair to the public,' said a Boston Carmen's Union official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak. 'We have an obligation to the public to get them back and forth. We promote reliable and on-time service, but you can't get that when you don't have the bodies out there and you're not covering the route.''

T General Manager Richard Davey said he ordered the cutback in overtime spending late last month - after 'we continued to see an overtime trend that I didn't like.' The MBTA, which is expected to end the fiscal year several million dollars over budget, has spent - $9 million on overtime for bus operators - $1.6 million more than budgeted.

In the past several weeks, the MBTA has begun greatly reducing overtime. In the week ending May 13, for example, the T spent $144,196 in OT for bus operators, less than half of what it spent the same week in 2010.

Meanwhile, the number of 'dropped' or canceled bus trips has skyrocketed because of its recent 'no subbing' policy for workers out sick or on family leave. In the first 23 days of this month, the T amassed 1,607 'dropped' trips, a 67 percent spike over the same time period last year.

'Dropped trips have increased not because overtime has been cut back, but because of continued absenteeism,' Davey said. 'We can't solve an absenteeism problem by throwing more overtime at it.'

Davey said he is sympathetic to riders left in the lurch by a dropped bus trip and has taken steps to minimize inconveniences.

'We are not dropping trips for rush hour or higher-utilized routes,' he said, adding that he has hired 55 bus drivers over the past year while also ordering his managers to discipline operators who chronically call in sick. 'The root cause is making sure people show up to work.'

T bus rider Jason Williams, 18, of Jamaica Plain said lately he has had to wait 45 minutes or longer for his bus to arrive in the morning. 'That's docked off my pay,' he said.

Boston Carmen's Union President John Lee said the dropped service is not an overtime issue.

'When two to three buses are dropped from a route, the next bus in line runs late and is crowded,' Lee said in a statement, adding that it creates a 'hostile'' work environment. 'Drivers are reporting that the riding public is frustrated and angry.'

Renee Nadeau Algarin - contributed to this report.

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