December 1, 2008
Saving Money by Hiring Drivers?
By Allison Hewitt
Special to Passenger Transport
It seems that at every recent transit industry gathering, a major topic of conversation revolves around the question of how to meet rapidly rising demand with shrinking revenues. The good news of increased ridership comes directly with the difficult news of the impact of such demand on existing capacity. And the bottom line in all of this is, literally, our bottom line – with many of us looking for ways to cut costs.
Given that context, it might seem like an odd time to ask: “Is your agency fully staffed with drivers?” Before I elaborate, let me provide some background.
Under the leadership of CEO David Armijo, the board of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) took an aggressive cost-cutting approach rather than cutting needed service. Since the largest slice of our budget is operator wages and benefits, we looked for ways to lower those costs without cutting either. One such opportunity, and one that might have implications for other transit operators around the country, was to reduce overtime.
HART determined that staffing at the full 100 percent level might actually save money, a conclusion that would seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. So what did we do to fix it? And did we actually save money by hiring more people?
David Armijo then instituted Step Two, which was simply the commitment that HART would hire a sufficient number of operators to cover all shifts, vacations, anticipated illnesses, and scheduling variations. Full staffing has allowed us to reduce split shifts, virtually eliminate forced overtime, and reduce the number of chargeable incidents. Further, because our bus operators are less stressed, we have received fewer customer complaints.
As a transit agency board member, what did I learn from this? If you interact with the rank and file of your agency (and I encourage you to do so), you may find that the folks behind the wheel of the bus can often identify problems quite clearly. Several of our operators had come to me concerned about being forced to work overtime. It was making them unhappy and affecting how they performed their jobs.
Because unhappy employees begat unhappy customers, my role as a board member was to work with agency management and come up with a solution to the problem.
The author is Interim Vice-Chair-HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit) and Secretary to the APTA Transit Board Member Committee.
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