Transit 101: Pay to Platform Ratio
The pay to platform ratio is a key statistic that transit professionals use to examine the efficiency of a transit system. "Platform" hours are the number of hours a bus is out on the road, while "Pay" hours are the total number of hours that a transit employee gets paid. A ratio of 1.0 would mean that pay hours would equal platform hours, but is never attained because pay hours are always more than platform hours. The major reasons why pay hours will always be more than platform hours are overtime - where operators are paid time and a half for working more than a certain amount of time, usually eight hours per day, but sometimes forty hours a week and sometimes if spread time is more than a certain amount - and guarantee or penalty time , where operators are paid for a set amount of time per day - usually eight hours but sometimes less - regardless of how many hours they actually work. Whether an agency has part-time employees can also affect the pay to platform ratio, as part-time employees, in agencies that use them, are often used both for trippers that would otherwise be worked as overtime by regular employees and to work short runs that would otherwise incur guarantee time if worked by regular employees. Finally, agencies with a large peak to base ratio (the ratio of the number of buses operated at the busiest time of the day to the number of buses operated at midday) will also usually have a larger pay to platform ratio, as the greater number of blocks operated the greater the amount of time employees will spend prepping buses for service and traveling to and from their work locations.
What Are Examples of Pay to Platform Ratios?
Although there is currently no industry wide standard, pay to platform ratios between 1.07 and 1.15 are generally considered good. For example, the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority (RIPTA) has a pay to platform ratio around 1.1. In 2008, major transit agencies in the San Francisco Bay area had the following pay to platform ratios: SamTrans, 1.28; Santa Clara County (San Jose) VTA, 1.32; AC Transit (Oakland), 1.16; San Francisco Muni, 1.27; and Golden Gate, 1.41.
How Can We Lower Pay to Platform Ratios?
One major reason why transit coach operators are different from other blue collar employees is that it is extremely difficult to have drivers out for exactly eight hours as drivers can only start and end their workdays at specified relief points along bus lines. As such, schedulers must constantly strive to work a balancing act between creating runs with guarantee time and runs with overtime. In my own work, I have found that I have been able to reduce the pay to platform ratio by - paradoxically - allowing Hastus the ability to create runs with more guarantee time and more overtime. Currently, I allow runs of as little as six hours and forty-five minutes and as long as nine hours and thirty minutes (the guarantee amount and threshold for overtime is eight hours). Allowing Hastus to create a handful of really short and really long runs has acted as a relief valve of sorts, resulting in the vast majority of runs being closer to eight hours.
Overall, such a tweak can at best only have a minor effect on the pay to platform ratio. Assuming we do not want to cut peak service, the only long term solution is to change rules in regards to guarantee time and overtime. Changing to a weekly guarantee and overtime threshold of forty hours, in conjunction with rostering , would have a significant impact on the pay to platform ratio. Consider a workweek consisting of the following shifts: 7 hours, 7 hours, 8 hours, 9 hours, 9 hours. In most agencies, this forty hour workweek would actually pay forty-three hours (2 hours for guarantee time in the first two shifts and 1 hour for the extra time and a half of overtime in the last two shifts). In an agency with a forty hour guarantee and overtime threshold, this workweek would pay forty hours - a 7% cost savings for the agency! Note that this change would be a very contentious one in the eyes of the union, and therefore not easy to achieve. However, if the alternative were service reductions and layoffs, it may be a change that could be enacted.