No Overtime, No Metro

Sunday, October 7, 2007

It's easy to blame excessive overtime as the cause of a Metro fare increase ["Discussion of Metro Fare Hike Postponed," front page, Sept. 14]. But do Metro's patrons really want to reduce overtime in the transit system?

Overtime is a fact of life when operating a transit system. It would be great if the timetables of bus and rail routes could be cut into nice, neat eight-hour chunks, but unfortunately that's rarely the case.

While Metro's scheduling department works diligently to reduce the amount of overtime, it cannot eliminate all of it. The extended rail hours on Friday and Saturday nights require longer hours. If there is a fire that causes traffic to be re-routed, buses will be late and that can cause operators to continue past their regular off-duty time in order to finish the route and serve the remaining passengers.

Each time there is a special event, it requires extra service. There is no pool of qualified bus operators and train operators who are sitting at home and who can come in two hours before or after regular openings or closings and perform the work. This has to be done on overtime.

If an unusual number of train cars require repair in the short time between the system's closing one night and its opening the next, overtime is required to put sufficient service on the rails.

When there is an emergency, such as a snowstorm, employees are called in early (at overtime pay) to clear snow and prepare buses and trains for service. When there is an emergency on the system that closes a rail station, the bus bridge around the closed station is provided on an overtime basis.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the union have sought to deal with these issues in contract negotiations. Retirees can now be used throughout the system for specific part-time assignments, which helps to alleviate some overtime. WMATA management can probably do a better job of forecasting and filling vacancies that could lead to some overtime reduction. But don't expect either of these efforts to offset WMATA's funding needs.

Of course, the circumstances I described above could all be eliminated. Bus bridges could be forgone and people could make their own way around the station closures. Snow removal could wait for regular hours. If there aren't enough trains or buses to make the normal schedule, it could be operated with fewer, and passengers could be left at the stations and bus stops to wait for the next one. Additional service for special events could be eliminated, leading to crowded trains, buses and, let's not forget, roads as more people drove their cars to events. Bus and train operators could simply offload passengers when their eight-hour shift is up and return to the yards.

Is this what anyone really wants?

The members of ATU Local 689 would be glad if overtime were reduced so that they could spend more time with their families, but they understand the additional hours they have to work are necessary to provide adequate levels of service to the public.

-- Jackie Jeter


The writer is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689.

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