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MBTA Workers Could Lose Free Rides

By Johanna Kaiser, Associated Press
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(Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

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BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority employees could be paying to ride the buses and subway cars under a proposal being considering by state lawmakers.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation heard testimony on a bill Thursday that would prohibit MBTA workers and retirees from taking rides free of charge on the T subway cars and buses for personal travel, as they have for decades.

The proposal comes as the agency faces a $161 million deficit in its operating budget and officials search for new ways to boost revenues, such as selling advertising on its website and licensing T merchandize and clothing, to avoid fare hikes.

The employee pass is part of each employee’s wages and benefits package negotiated with the MBTA. The agency has labor agreements with 16 unions, and the bonus of free rides does not come without a cost to employees in other areas, union leaders say.

“This pass code for members is something that we have fought for in our collective bargaining process and given up on wages and benefits in the past to maintain this program,” testified James O’Brien, vice president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, the T’s largest union. The agency and unions are in the process of negotiating contracts.

The T’s 6,288 employees took 2,231,021 rides, equaling 0.6 percent of the 380 million trips taken in fiscal year 2011, according to the MBTA. The 5,247 retirees took 137,099 trips during the same period.

Workers often ride the T as part of their daily work, and use their employee tap card to enter facilities or help customers, meaning the number of personal rides is likely much lower, according to O’Brien, who wanted the issue to remain part of contract negotiations while the state focuses on adequately funding public transportation.

“It’s just a shame to take a collective bargaining issue out of our hands,” he said.

The House chairman of the committee, Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, said lawmakers generally avoids getting involved in active labor negotiations, and noted that adequate funding was a vital issue for the committee.

Still, he acknowledged the impact costs can have on the cash-strapped agency.

“There’s no such thing as a small cost issue looking to funding the T,” he said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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