Privatization supporters urge MBTA board to pursue opportunities

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BOSTON >> A week after organized labor supporters crowded a meeting of the MBTA's control board to protest privatization of MBTA jobs, a group of elected officials spoke up in favor of privatization at a T board meeting Monday.

Rep. Joseph McKenna, a Webster Republican, told the T's Fiscal and Management Control Board that the agency should continue to look for ways to save money, even if that means privatizing the jobs of bus drivers or maintenance workers.

"It is certainly well-advised to continue to pursue the best cost savings that can be obtained through seeking competitive workforce solutions for the T," McKenna said. "I think it's absolutely critical that we are doing the absolute best that we can to pursue cost-effective and efficient solutions to have a reliable public transportation system."

MBTA officials are actively exploring privatization of inventory and cash management operations in an attempt save money and improve services at the agency, which has battled perennial budget imbalances. And the FMCB in a Sept. 1 report signaled it might seek outsourcing of its core operations.

The Democrat-controlled state Legislature last year suspended the so-called Pacheco Law, which requires a privatization proposal to be vetted by the state auditor, to give the MBTA a three-year window to privatize services.

"When we passed a budget that offered a waiver of Pacheco on a three-year term, I think that presents a tremendous amount of opportunity and it is really important to at least give that a chance to succeed and see what sort of savings might be obtained in the last two years," McKenna said.

Michael Gaffney, a Worcester city councilor, told the FMCB that the state's second-largest city has made its Union Station and rail link to Boston a central tenet of its development plans.

"A lot of our development depends on an affordable and efficient system of transportation," Gaffney said. "So I come before you to say, listen, we really need you to continue your efforts as best you can to try to make sure we have an affordable and efficient system."

Led by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, city councilors from Newton and Lawrence joined McKenna and Gaffney in urging the FMCB to continue moving forward with privatization plans in order to keep the T an affordable option for their residents who rely on the transit system to get to work or school.

The Boston Carmen's Union Local 589, which represents more than 4,100 of the MBTA's roughly 6,500 employees, has vigorously opposed privatization, and last week packed the T's meeting room with union members and supporters who spoke passionately against privatization.

"We firmly believe that privatizing MBTA services will not improve the system, for our riders, and there is little evidence that it will save money for taxpayers," Local 589 President James O'Brien wrote in a letter to legislators last week. "Further, privatization will hurt working families across Massachusetts."


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