WMATA provided data about employee salaries, bonuses, overtime and benefits for fiscal year 2009. Is the $100,000 bus driver a myth, or reality?  Does Metro depend on a lot of overtime?  Are bonuses incredibly high, or used primarily as a symbolic recognition of a job well done?

First, here are the ten most common jobs at Metro:

TitleNumberAvg SalaryMax SalaryAvg Overtime
Metrobus Operator2672$49,50058,6007,400
Train Operator61152,30058,20010,500
Station Manager52355,70058,20011,500
Metro Police19462,10086,9009,300
Bus Operations Mgr13977,40092,500900
Escalator/Elevator Tech13880,60080,7002,900
Metro Police MTPD11468,10086,90012,700
Railcar Cleaner10438,70045,4001,500

This is a high cost area, and you want people to want these jobs to stick with them for enough years that they have some experience.  The jobs that require more specialized skills, involve greater personal risk or supervisory roles are compensated higher than less risky or less skilled jobs. 

When you compare this compensation against the Federal government’s GS scale and equivalent jobs posted on USA Jobs.com, the WMATA employees typically make a couple of dollars more per hour compared to Federal workers. They also enjoy better pensions, but no defined contribution matching like TSP, and have higher employer contributions to health care plans. The feds pay for 2/3 of a health care plan, while WMATA has agreed to pay for only 3/4 of the increase in health care costs, which the union representatives I’ve talked to refer to as a concession to WMATA. 

Average bus operators and train operators don’t normally make over $50-70k.  On the other hand, a few bus or operators put in enough overtime to qualify for the $100,000 per year club, all by putting in significant amounts of overtime:

PositionTotal Compensation
Rail Operator$113,300
Rail Operator$109,500
Rail Operator$104,500
Rail Operator$103,200
Bus Operator$102,600
Rail Operator$102,500
Bus Operator$101,800
Rail Operator$101,300
Bus Operator$100,200
Bus Operator$100,000

Some instances of high overtime are related to long hours put in by supervisors and track workers in the aftermath of the June 22 accident or other incidents.  In all, almost 400 employees got a third of their total compensation from overtime (that is, overtime added half of their base salary). 

I do not begrudge employees that put in a lot of overtime their fair pay, and I understand that working long hours sucks, and overtime is a fair way to compensate people for working long hours.  Having many employees extended so far beyond their normal working hours is a good example of Metro’s funding challenge.  Metro understands this, they’ve discussed reducing their overtime and they’ve made some progress on overtime.

Considering Metro pensions are based on your highest four earning years, including overtime, excessive overtime can hurt Metro’s bottom line not only in the current year, but for years to come if the pensions are increased dramatically by overtime.  The pension multiplier for the first 27 years of service is a reasonable 1.7 times your high four years of earnings, but most other government agencies would calculate it based on only your base salary.

What did Metro’s top managers make in 2009?  Here are the top ten spots, ranked by salary plus bonuses:

TitleSalaryOvertime + Bonus
General Manager$315,0000
Chief Financial Officer235,00015,000
Deputy General Manager235,8000
Deputy General Manager231,0000
Chief Safety Officer181,30010,000
Assistant General Manager, Bus Services184,0000
Inspector General177,7000
General Counsel175,100200
Chief of Staff172,700200
Chief Performance Officer170,700200

Considering the General Manager and his top staff are responsible for running an organization of over 10,000 employees and managing billions of dollars in assets, these salaries do not seem too out of line or unreasonable.

Who at Metro makes more than $100,000 per year in salary only, other than top managers?  From the looks of the data, the police force, white collar workers like contract administrators, attorneys, engineers and IT professionals earn that much.

Who makes over $100,000 per year when you include overtime and (less frequently) bonuses?  Over 700 employees.  Very few train operators or bus drivers.  Lots of police officers, Almost 400 police officers, the supervisors of Metrorail central control and the superintendents in charge of maintaining the tracks and wayside communications.  Several very senior mechanics.  Senior operations supervisors, and very senior (AA grade) technicians.

PositionNumber of $100K+ employees
Metro Police Officers74
Track and Wayside Supervisors17
Mechanic AA ELCL PWRHV Rail16
Central Control Supervisor15
Contract Administrator15
Shift Supervisor ELCL POWER TIES15
Rail Station Manager10
Rail Operations Supervisor9
Network Technician8

Therefore, a few employees at Metro make over $100,000 a year, but they are either senior managers or supervisors, or put in significant amounts of overtime.  Given the demands of long hours and the high costs of living here, it’s not unreasonable for some workers to make that much.

On the other hand, it’s hard to tell what are reasonable wages for transit workers without knowing how hard Metro has to work to recruit new talent.  If wages are too low, Metro will find it difficult to recruit people that will put up with inflexible working hours, often starting early in the morning and ending late in the evening, with a no-man’s-land of dead time in the middle of the day.  Leave must be scheduled months in advance.

What do you think? Do you think the pay is too high? Was it higher than you expected, or just about right, or not enough? Should Metro push to increase pension rates, but require that the pension calculations reflect regular hours only?

Update: I added a link in the article to the 400-page PDF containing the salary data.

Donate to our reader drive today to keep reading tomorrow. In honor of our 10th anniversary, we have some limited edition GGWash swag and perks as a small "thank you" for your donation. Learn more and donate here, now!

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.