Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond talks fare increases, driver wages

General Manager Kevin Desmond was a guest on the Dori Monson Show Wednesday, May 21, to discuss fares, wages and Metro’s operations. Here’s some of what he said during their conversation. More online at the Dori Monson Show (timepoint 28 minutes).

Metro has third highest paid drivers? (no)
A lot of numbers are tossed around, Desmond said. “The last number is fifth highest for a top step wage for a full-time operator. But 40 percent of our operators work part time … one of the largest proportions in the U.S., negotiated with our union 30+ years ago. The average wage, take-home pay of a part-time operator is $26,000-$27,000. Working with part-time operators “helps develop efficiency in our system.”

Monson said drivers can make over six figures for a job that doesn’t require a high school diploma. On behalf of bus operators, that’s insulting, Desmond said.

“It’s actually a pretty hard job, and those folks making overtime are not making overtime sitting down. They are working extremely long hours to make that pay. We had a performance audit in 2009 that looked at should we be paying people overtime or hiring more people with wages and benefits. An independent audit suggested we should be paying more operators overtime to save money and be more efficient as opposed to paying more people benefits.”

Buses benefit the region’s economy

“Let’s be clear what transit does in this region and this community. In its essence what this organization does and what public transportation does in this region is help make for successful economic development and opportunities for people to get to jobs. We’re otherwise going to be stuck in gridlock. The highways and byways are already very congested. Public transportation is subsidized by taxpayers all over the world. A lot of that is to take care of people who don’t have options, a lot of that is to make a successful economic community where people have choices and a very good quality of life.”

Riders paying more

“We’ve raised the fare four times between 2008-2011. We’re raising the fare again in March of next year. Customers pay a lot more. Our farebox recovery is slightly above average of the top 30 systems in U.S.” It’s not simple arithmetic. Increasing fares by “25 cents raises about $12 million in revenue. For a two-zone peak fare, every year a transit customer pays about $1,300 in fares, that would compare to the average car owner who pays about $325* a year in gas taxes. Our transit customers pay about 3-4 times more in transit fares than people who are subsidizing the roads for gas taxes.”

*Assumptions include: total gas tax rate is 55.9 cents per gallon; average mileage per year is 12,000; average miles per gallon of 20.6.