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Featured Reader Comment: The T’s Boss Got A Big Pay Raise; What About Bus Drivers?

We published two MBTA stories last week: one on how the T is still losing ground in its efforts to hire bus drivers, and a profile on Phillip Eng, the agency's new boss.

From the comments section of that second story, some of our readers offered some insights worth sharing on how those two stories are related.

First, Michael Kinkema wrote:

"I would love to ask Eng and/or Healey if they think a bus driver should be able to afford a basic studio or 1 bedroom apartment. If so, when are we going to raise their pay to reflect that? They keep pushing the whole MBTA as a career spiel but nobody is going to take them seriously if they refuse to pay a living wage."

Reader "The Slaw" responded:

"Especially when he required one of the highest salaries of any transit executive in the country in order to take the job. The commonwealth clearly understands that higher pay is necessary to be competitive at the highest level but it never seems to apply that logic for working people, who you know, actually need it."

The Healey administration lured Eng with a contract that offered a base salary of $470,000 a year, plus an “annual retention payment” of $30,000 and annual cost-of-living increases.

That salary is about $130,000 more than the previous general manager, Steve Poftak, earned under Governor Baker – a 38 percent pay increase.

Under a 2021 labor deal, bus drivers got a paltry pay increase  – 5.1 percent spread out over two years – that hasn't even kept pace with inflation.

New bus drivers in 2021 earned $21.13 an hour; adjusting for inflation, that hourly wage would be worth $23.36 in today's dollars. But the actual starting wage for new bus drivers in 2023 is just $22.21 per hour.

Eng did discuss employee recruitment during last week's ferry ride, but he didn't mention employee compensation in his answer.

Instead, he talked about the T's new "HR On the Go" job fairs, the first of which occurred at a church in Mattapan this weekend.

The T has been doing those kinds of recruitment events for a while, so Eng's answer wasn't very newsworthy and we didn't include it in our story. But he also said this:

"I'm told the T was the job of choice in the past. That's what we're gonna get back to – it really is. And if you love public services, if you love helping the community, your fellow neighbors: come to the T, work with us. Work with me. And, you know, we'll be colleagues for a long time."

Effective this week, the T will start offering significantly larger $7,500 sign-on bonuses to new drivers. We'll be watching closely over the next few months to see if those larger bonuses turn the tide in the agency's struggles to fill hundreds of vacant driver's seats on its bus system.

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