Sunday, July 18, 2010

KC-Metro Transit uses tax increase for much higher salaries, little service increase increased service

Update at bottom The King County bus system asked for sales tax increases so they could increase bus service. But did a little of that, but gave drivers a huge pay increase. WPC (pdf)
... Higher Wages Replace New Bus Service In 2000, only nineteen drivers made more than $75,000 per year and none made over $100,000. After the two sales tax increases, the number who made more than $75,000 rose to 243 drivers, and now twenty drivers make more than $100,000 per year. These high-wage bus drivers cost taxpayers $1.6 million in 2000. By 2009, these high wage earners required $20.7 million per year, an increase of nearly 1,200 percent. In part, the rapid growth in drivers’ wages has stalled the ability of Metro’s previous two tax increases to purchase the expanded service officials promised to voters. Nearly half of the projected revenue from the two tax increases is now devoted to higher wages. Sharply higher wages have contributed to Metro’s budget problems. Given the rapid growth in salaries over the last decade and as Metro wrestles with how to close its $200 million budget hole, gaining control of high wages is an obvious starting point.
Driver Qualifications Do Not Justify Such High Wages
... With the exception of obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License, the qualifications to drive a bus in King County do not require high levels of technical experience or any education. These qualifications are typical of many private sector jobs that pay far less than $100,000 per year. On the other hand, there are many other jobs that need substantially more skills, experience and education but pay less. For example, King County was recently hiring a payroll manager for its District Court system. The position requires knowledge and experience with dozens of court and accounting procedures, a four-year college degree, four years of payroll experience and two years of management experience. The starting annual salary is $61,477 and tops out at $78,242.9
Update: Michael Ennis at WPC follows up. Transit drivers called him names and had complaints. But they didn't challenge any of his facts. WPC

8 comments:

pstransitoperators said...

King County Metro bus drivers are NOT overpaid, nor is the position unskilled. At the very minimum, your claim that a sales tax increase was used to inflate driver salaries ignores the totality of County government - much of which is filled with overpaid individuals with indeterminate job descriptions earning OVER 100K per year.

This post of yours demonstrates astounding ignorance.

I recommend you visit the Puget Sound Transit Operator's blog and educate yourself. Better yet - try becoming a bus driver. I DARE you.

VeloBusDriver said...

Your claims are missing detail that makes me suspect you're playing fast and loose with your numbers. Here are some things to look at for a clearer picture:

. The amount of overtime pay in the time periods you mention - To make anything higher than $60,000 per year, a bus driver has to work overtime. Over the timeline you cited, there were many times where Metro could *not* hire enough qualified drivers and simply *had* to pay overtime to get the work out. Times have changed and Metro has more qualified drivers now and overtime has most likely dropped dramatically.

. Route productivity - Something management has control over and responsibility for, not bus drivers

. Maintenance costs - Again, drivers have little control over costs here.

. The low, high, median, and mean of bus driver wages. There are many part-time operators who make less than $30,000 per year, without access to paid benefits. I don't have exact numbers but I'm relatively sure that the number is higher than 243 (I'm half-way up the part-time seniority list and only made $27,000 last year - If I chose to work a split shift every day, I could probably push that earning rate up to $40,000 with paid benefits. In case you don't know, working split shifts is a hard way to make a living.

. Take a more detailed look at the skills required to drive a bus: It's one thing to drive a bus. It's quite another to do it safely, in rush hour traffic, with pedestrians, cyclists, and cars coming at you in all directions. Then there are fares, for multiple agencies, peak/off peak, fare payment systems, radio protocols, protocols for driving with trains in the bus tunnel, detailed knowledge of laws specific to buses operating near train tracks, express lanes, etc.. etc... Oh, and have you ever driven a bus in the snow? How about an electric trolley, attached to wires above, in the snow? Trust me, there's a lot you're not considering.

I'm not here to defend waste of taxpayer funds - like any large organization, Metro has things it could do better. That said, it's a pretty well run shop and much of the waste in the system has more to do with political demands for one-seat rides and wasteful service - *not* bus driver wages. Free management from those constraints and you'll see some pretty dramatic improvements in systemwide productivity. Keep in mind that there are many fiscally conservative bus drivers at Metro who have plenty of very detailed gripes about how the organization is run and how to improve things. For you to pick on 243, out of almost 3000, drivers who earn a large paycheck because of a willingness to do overtime when Metro asks them to is myopic and dishonest.

I Invite you to dig deeper and really examine how to make the system better and more cost effective.

If you visit my blog, you may be surprised to learn what I used to do for a living... But I'll leave that up to you.

pstransitoperators said...

Also worthy of note "average" vs. "mean" is an old-school diversionary tactic used by those wishing to misrepresent numbers to support an agenda.

As VeloBusDriver notes - the large amount of overtime inflates the average - but not the mean. The report (and its echo here) is deceptive in claiming a "70 percent increase in wages". Were that true, then drivers at the first wage tier would have been earning $5.94 an hour in 2000 - a ridiculous lie.

The Ennis "report" uses a number of misleading statments and omissions that make the alert that this blog posting is based on shameful deception. King County Metro is but one County agency (and all County agendies are funded by the sales tax), and drivers one classification within that agency.

You people should be ashamed of yourselves.

Ron said...

Sorry I didn't see these comment sooner. I was in a narrow-bandwidth situation for 4 days. No internet access for my MacBook, just for the tiny screen of my IPhone. I will look into this tomorrow.

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