Threatened with a loss of millions of dollars in state aid, the Southern California Rapid Transit District set itself the goal Thursday of reducing absenteeism among bus drivers by nearly 20% over the next three years.
And, despite months of critical public scrutiny of the RTD, the board gave General Manager John Dyer a vote of confidence, unanimously approving a 5.3% raise that will boost his annual salary to $119,000. The raise maintains Dyer among the six highest-paid government officials in Los Angeles County.
The action on absenteeism came one day after the county Transportation Commission, which controls a large share of RTD's funds, voted to hold back about $5 million from the bus system next year if a worsening trend in absenteeism is not reversed.
A recent commission audit of the RTD identified unscheduled absences among bus drivers, mechanics and maintenance workers as a major problem, costing the transit district more than $23 million a year. Unscheduled absences averaged 32 days per year among all RTD bus drivers, a rate 45% higher than the average of several other large transit systems.
Much of the problem has been blamed by commission auditors and RTD officials on longstanding provisions of union contracts, including a rule allowing drivers to take regular days off and then volunteer for overtime on their scheduled days off at premium wage rates.
The bus drivers' union contends that high absenteeism is caused by drivers being overworked and has refused to renegotiate the contract until it expires in 1988.
Nonetheless, Dyer on Thursday said he expects to reach a "cooperative working relationship" to reduce absenteeism with union leaders. He said absences can also be cut down without changes in the contract--by home visits to identify malingerers who are on long-term absences, for example.
The RTD board had previously set a 5% absenteeism reduction target for the current fiscal year. Thursday, the board set a goal of 5% more for next year and 10% the year after.
In another development, following critical press reports, RTD officials insisted that their drivers are subject to close scrutiny for on-duty accidents, even though many of those are not reported to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Under state law, governmental agencies are not required to report on-duty accidents to the DMV, although serious accidents in which police reports are filed do show up on the records.