MA: MeVa chief inks 5-year deal to run bus line

June 12, 2024
MeVa Board members said Noah Berger's deal is longer than the typical three-year contract following the successful increase in ridership, employee retention and cultivation of a team culture.

HAVERHILL — The region’s administrator for local transportation, Noah Berger, 58, has signed a five-year contract with the MeVa transit board for $155,000, with annual cost of living increases and up to a 5% bonus at the board’s discretion.

His current annual salary is $147,088. Next fiscal year’s figure represents a 5.4% increase.

The duration of the agreement, which was signed Thursday and takes effect July 1, exceeds the typical three years but board members cited Berger’s success boosting bus ridership, retaining and adding drivers and other employees, and building team culture as reasons for the extension.

Also, Lawrence’s representative to the MeVa board, Myra Ortiz, said new contract language protects the regional transit authority should the board and administrator relationship fracture within those five years.

Under the contract the board can dismiss the administrator at will for just cause, and can dismiss with 60 days notice for no cause.

Ortiz said she would typically oppose a 5-year agreement for an administrative position, but Berger’s performance has been exceptional by serving riders with more frequent and efficient routes, and by promoting high performers within the ranks.

The latest examples came this week with the promotion of Niorka Mendez from chief communications director to deputy administrator. Mendez started her MeVa career as a bus driver, about eight years ago.

Also promoted this week was Nataylia Curet, from receptionist to outreach coordinator.

Newburyport’s representative to the MeVa board, Andrew Levine, was part of the committee that put together and recommended the administrator contract and is glad the board voted unanimously to approve it.

“Noah’s success speaks for itself,” said Levine, chief of staff for Newburyport Mayor Sean Reardon.

While other regional transit authorities, as well as public and private companies, are scrambling to hire and retain enough qualified employee, MeVa has been adding staff.

MeVa has grown its workforce by 40% since 2022, and has increased its bus driver numbers from the 60s to the high 80s.

As a result MeVa has been staffed sufficiently to restore Sunday service, run later at night and double the frequency of Lawrence routes.

At a time when the other 14 regional transit authorities in Massachusetts are scrambling to recover from the ridership collapse during the pandemic, MeVa is outpacing pre-pandemic levels.

In May, the ridership on MeVa’s 24 fixed bus routes was 284,199, which comes out to 67% more than the 170,048 riders in May 2019.

MeVa has 24 fixed bus routes that travel as far as Lowell and Salisbury.

Berger grew up taking public transit in New York City and has worked in the public transit sector for almost 30 years, including stops with the Federal Transit Administration, Connecticut Transit and the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority.

Early in his tenure, he said his most pressing concern was obtaining enough funding to build MeVa.

Berger and his team have been successful securing federal, state and private dollars to provide free transportation, train employees, build infrastructure and rebrand the buses and company through inviting color schemes and more effective communication.

He is most proud of the work his team has done changing perceptions around public transportation, encouraging people to feel good about riding the bus.

His immediate goal is relocating the Lawrence hub from the worn and gray downtown Buckley Transportation Center to the restored McGovern Transportation Center on the south side of the Merrimack River.

MeVa has largely completed McGovern improvements to parking and traffic flow, and is now making the space a more comfortable and art-inspired setting for people to wait for buses.

McGovern is slated to become the hub on Sept. 1.

Earlier this year, Berger told the board he would be interested in signing a five-year contract upon the expiration of his current deal.

He sees the difference public transportation makes in people’s lives, every day, and looks forward to making local transportation better.

“I couldn’t imagine a better job than this,” Berger says.

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