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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Part-Time Operators in Public Transit: Experiences and Prospects


Most U.S. transit agencies have begun to use part-time operators as a means to reduce operating cost. This report, based on five case studies, evaluates the cost savings and organizational impacts associated with this change. Results indicate that cost savings have been small but significant in situations where peak service expansion occurred. But where the schedule was static, contract protections for existing operators have made it difficult to use part-time labor, and hence savings were small or insignificant. 

We find that in transit agencies with highly peaked schedules, part-time operators (PTOs) save money for two reasons: they improve schedule efficiency (the ratio of hours-paid to hours-worked), and their wages and fringe benefits are lower than those of full time operators. In agencies with relatively flat schedules the only savings is from lower wages and fringes, and it is possible that this kind of "two-tier" wage system may be bargained away over time. We find that for agencies with flat or static schedules, it may be more effective to concentrate on alternative strategies such as absenteeism control and extraboard staffing which may be more beneficial and easier to implement. 

On the organizational side, we find no unusual costs associated with use of PTOs. They have proven to be as reliable, or even more so, than full time operators; they have not created unusual supervisory costs, and there have been relatively few problems between part-time and full-time operators. We also find that instead of creating a permanent force of PTOs, as had been anticipated, most of the PTOs that were hired really wanted full-time work.

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