Bus Drivers Should Be Paid What It Costs To Hire Competent Bus Drivers

I understand where Duncan Black is coming from in voicing frustration at the idea that bus drivers are the real lucky duckies of the American economy, but I ultimately think this is a deeply wrongheaded way of looking at an issue:

Given all the austerity that’s floating around I get that it’s perhaps not the right moment, but whenever I hear about how good municipal workers have it I want to tell people to go apply for those goddamn jobs. When my local transit authority went on strike all the local yahoos were bitching about the fact that bus drivers, after some seniority, were paid FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. As I pointed out at the time, there were lovely bus driver job listings on the web page and if anybody thinks they have an awesome deal they can go apply for the jobs. Now apparently THIRTY EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS is too much.

But that’s just the point. If $50,000 is too little to pay to hire a bus driver, then nobody will apply for the jobs and you’ll have to raise pay. And the same goes for $38,000. Federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour which at 40 hours a week and 50 weeks a year comes to I believe $14,500 and there are people doing minimum wage jobs. Maybe they’d like to drive a bus for $30,000 a year and maybe a transit agency near you would like to give them a shot. If it turns out that they can hire cheaper bus drivers, that means some combination of three things. It could mean plowing the money into better bus service, which is good for the bus system’s primarily poor clients. It could mean using the money to reduce fares, which is good for the bus system’s primarily poor clients. Or it could mean lower taxes, which at the state and local level are generally quite regressive.

Now personally I’m not a fan of that last option. I believe in public services, and I certainly believe in mass transit, and I want my city’s transit to be excellent. But it’s extremely difficult to have excellent public services if the debate is polarized between people who want to reduce spending in order to cut taxes, and people who want to view the bus system as a jobs program for bus drivers. When a city is having trouble attracting qualified applicants for bus driver jobs, that’s a sign that the wage is too damn low.