Transit Tuesday - otherwise known as 'fact of the day'
Here is the ranking of bus operator wages per hour for the major transit systems in the nation. I have put the Port Authority's ranking in red. The Source is something called the "National Transit Database" and if you want a full PDF version of the illustration you can click here. The full file has the individual trans agencies listed.
So is the Port Authority average wage on the high side, yup, but certainly not the highest by any means. Cut a few percentage points and the wage would drop a lot further in that ranking.
Here is the thing that goes unmentioned. Of all the transit agencies in the nation I bet the Pittsburgh area has had the lowest population growth in recent decades. Thus the Port Authority sufferes from an afflication of most industries in the region that are population dependent and thus have not had much growth in decades. I bet that if you compared the Port Authority to all other transit agencies, a smaller proportion of their current workers have been hired in the last 10 years than elsewhere. Why does that matter? I bet a lot of the transit agencies that have lower average wages are really places where they have a lot of junior workers whose wages are on the lowest part of their salary scale. Thus its not a fair comparison at all to say that one transit agency's entire compensation system is . Like a lot of things affected by our extreme demographic, this is one of them I would put good money on. If true, this type of ranking is saying nothing more than the Port Authority's workers are older and more senior than their colleagues working for other transit system. I am sure the Port Authority would love to get rid of its oldest and highest paid workers, but there are these little laws against age discrimination that would get in the way even if their labor contract didn't prohibit that selective type of layoffs.
This is a big issue for a lot of private sector industries as well, but is very much at issue in a lot of public sector workforces that derive their 'demand' from the population size. Lots of local school districts have some fairly senior workers as well, expecially compared to places in the South and West which have seen the fastest growth in recent decades. If you look at the full file, you will see a lot of those lowest paying agencies are in Florida or other places which have seen the highest population growth in the last decade.
So why do they keep getting away with the metric that the Port Authority's wages are 'highest'. First they don't compare themselves to the all transit agencies in the nation, only a subset of transit agencies around the country. Then they 'adjust' the salaries for regional cost of living differences using something I use often which is the ACCRA (now called COLI) cost of living index. That is fine for many things, but that index explicity states it is for higher income professional households who are likely to be choosing between different regions to live in. I think that disclaimer pretty much disqualifies it from applying it for blue collar bus operator wages whom I doubt are being recruited by transit agencies in other regions very often... It's just not the right metric to use in this case. Ironically it would be the right metric to compare Steve Bland's salary to other transit leaders and anyone truly considered professional 'management' at the Port Authority. Funny how this adjustment is not applied to the analysis of management salaries.
Even so, why not use that same 'adjustment' when looking at everyone else's wages and salaries. I bet you yourself would be shocked at how your wage comparesif adjusted by a similar means and compared to the same regions used to compare Port Authority operator wages. Most everyone in the region would be considered overpaid if we applied the same methodology for other occupations, something I doubt we agree with without deeper inspection.