Thursday, December 21, 2006

Broward County Transit - A Perfect Storm

Broward County FL - A perfect storm has hit Broward County. No, not a hurricane but a whole slew of problems which are causing the Broward County Transit (BCT) to literally fall apart. From the Miami Herald, a report on the BCT problems tells of mechanic shortages, a quickly breaking down bus fleet and rider complaints.

Much of the problem stems from BCT having close to 25% of the mechanic positions opened. This has caused an aging fleet of buses to become backlogged with various problems that need repaired and because of that, the bus service is becoming very unreliable.

The mechanic issue appears to be two fold. First is that the current contract with BCT has been expired for 14 months and the new contract is still in mediation. Second is that BCT is being out priced by other public and private firms who pay more for mechanics. These two issues combined and created the mechanic shortage

BCT has an older fleet of buses, with some being 14 years old compared to the Federal recommendations of 12 years old. While this normally shouldn't pose much of a problem, the mechanic shortage has stalled needed maintenance on the older fleet which now finds many of the buses broken down.

Now, add into the mix that a new bus order is tied up court due to a dispute between the county and bus supplier.

Then add in that BCT is increasing service when it can't meet the schedule now.

What you get is a perfect storm that is ultimately hurting BCT. From employee moral to ridership moral, the current BCT problems can take years to overcome the bad image the system is gaining. The effect in the mean time will be ridership losses and higher costs to operate.

While BCT is exploring obtaining second hand buses from Miami and is expecting 6 new buses to arrive in February, their problems are far from over. The maintenance backlog will continue to grow as long as there is a mechanic shortage at the agency and these additional buses will soon be lines up waiting their turn to be repaired. With new routes slated to start in the first quarter of 2007, BCT will still be experiencing late and no-show buses due to the maintenance backlog.

While I'm not a fan of increasing costs for public transit, the BCT seriously needs to do a quick study of the starting wage rate for mechanics in the Broward County area. Assign someone in the office to start calling various garages and other government agencies in the area to see what they start new mechanics off at. Considering that the local school district in the county starts its school bus mechanics off at $24.45 an hour and BCT starts mechanics off at $16.64, I am pretty sure BCT pays on the low end of the scale for qualified mechanics.

If such a quick study was done and it's determined that the BCT is underpaying the mechanic wage based on the current wages paid elsewhere in the county, they need to bump the wage up to remain competitive. What I sense happening here is that the BCT can't attract mechanics because the mechanics can get a far better wage elsewhere with another employer. The 14 months of working under an old contract also isn't helping the BCT attract new mechanics.

With route expansions just around the corner, BCT officials are further cutting their own throat. A handful of new buses and some second hand buses will not solve the ultimate problem of not having enough mechanics to service the buses. They are doing the typical government method of slapping a Band-Aid on the problem without treating the problem to keep it from festering into a larger problem.

BCT needs to put the route expansion on hold until they address the real problem. If they don't, the route expansion will be pointless as they will just be rolling out an inferior product to potential new customers. It will also be a big waste of money to start new routes when they can't run what they have now.

The BCT has a long road to travel to repair not only the backlog of buses waiting for maintenance but to repair the bad image the system now has from the poor service it currently provides due to the lack of buses to meet schedule.

No comments: