Warning that scaling back service would harm public health and mobility options, the head of an influential business group called Wednesday for the MBTA to consider bringing in private buses to cope with a driver shortage.

Rick Dimino, president and CEO of A Better City, criticized the T’s plan to reduce the number of bus trips it runs by about 3 percent this winter, affecting more than 30 bus routes, as “a step in the wrong direction when the MBTA should be increasing frequency, growing demand, and building back better.”

MBTA officials estimate they would need an additional 80 to 100 full-time drivers to fulfill the existing schedule without dropped trips.

Ahead of a Wednesday night public meeting on the topic, Dimino urged agency officials to take substantial steps to overcome their hiring challenges and consider looking to the private sector.

section of state law named for Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton requires state agencies to prove that privatizing a public service will both save money and maintain at least an equal level of service.

Dimino suggested the MBTA’s impending cuts are dire enough to warrant exploring a waiver from that mandate.

“The MBTA — and the Commonwealth — must do more to attract and retain qualified job seekers, including looking to other markets for emerging best practices, increasing financial incentives, and if needed, hiring private bus services to supplant underserved routes,” Dimino said. “If this requires temporary relief from the Pacheco law, Governor Baker and the Legislature should act swiftly.”

The T has stressed that its impending bus cuts, set to take effect Dec. 19 with the new winter schedule, are a response to a labor shortage and not a cost-control measure.

“There is sufficient funding at the MBTA to bring our vital mass transit systems back to pre-pandemic levels and assist the Commonwealth’s economic recovery,” Dimino said. “The entire region depends on frequent, reliable, affordable, and equitable public transit services.”

Facing a shortage of school bus drivers in many districts, the Baker administration activated the National Guard in September to help fill gaps.

About 200 National Guard personnel drove school buses nearly 330,000 miles before their mission ended in November. 

(Copyright (c) 2024 State House News Service.

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