In many ways, it was a tough 2022 for Pittsburgh Regional Transit, highlighted by operator shortages, slow ridership recovery and service reliability problems as the region came out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To the PRT board, those problems might have been worse and adjustments slower to come with a different management team. As a result, the board Friday approved a $53,800 bonus for CEO Katharine Eagan Kelleman.
Under Kellemen’s $269,000 contract, she automatically receives a 5% annual raise worth $13,450 this year. With the maximum 20% bonus, Kelleman received a total salary increase of $67,250.
She signed a contract extension through 2025 in May.
“We’re happy we have her here,” board chairman Jeffrey Letwin said as he proposed the bonus. “She’s a leader in the industry nationwide.”
After the meeting, Letwin said many of the problems the local agency is facing actually are national problems, such as the shortage of workers. He credited Kelleman and her staff with developing innovative programs to help attract new employees and pointed to other achievements such as the mobile fare payment app, rebranding the agency from Port Authority to Pittsburgh Regional Transit and the implementation of the first parts of the agency’s 25-year plan.
“She’s been doing a great job,” Letwin said. “She’s been doing a great job getting us through [the shortage or workers].”
Before her bonus was approved, Kelleman handed out “all-star” awards for employees to recognize special efforts such as the team of police officers who helped rescue victims during last year’s collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge. As part of that program, she credited the agency for having “the best team in transit.”
“This is a fantastic place to be,” she said.
Kelleman acknowledged after the meeting the agency is facing some challenges meeting the needs for operators and maintenance personnel. But she contends that schedule changes have reduced missed bus trips to less than 2% for the past several weeks.
She also sharply disagreed with a report from Pittsburghers for Public Transit that claimed more than half the bus routes in Pittsburgh neighborhoods were on schedule less than 50% of the time and the Amalgamated Transit Union’s claim that scheduling is a shambles right now.
“If more than half our buses weren’t on time, we’d absolutely hear about it, and we’re not,” she said. “We know we have challenges. I aggressively resent the implication that our 2,600 folks aren’t doing their best job.”
On scheduling, Ross Nicotero, president and business agent for ATU Local 85, said the agency makes unrealistic time requirements for drivers to complete their routes.
“We have monthly scheduling meetings,” he said, “but they don’t listen.”
As a result, many routes have unrealistic goals for when drivers are to be at certain places along their trip, he said.
“We see an engaged and active workforce,” she said. “We absolutely take suggestions from our operators and employees.”
Agency spokesman Adam Brandolph said in many cases the requests and suggestions from union leaders don’t fit with the actual situation that operators are facing as they try to stay on schedule.
“There’s a difference between what we’re seeing and what they are asking for,” he said.
As far as staffing, Kelleman said it is a national problem that all the transit agencies are struggling to solve. The agency has a 30-member class of operators in training now, and on Friday more than two dozen maintenance employees completed training.
The agency is holding job fairs and trying to reduce the time for applicants to be approved for training. Starting operators receive $22.82 an hour and are paid $19 an hour during training.
The agency will even pay for applicants to obtain their CDL license to drive a bus.
“This is not a money thing,” Kelleman said, noting that the agency’s salary scale ranks fifth in the country. “We have the benefits everyone should have, and we’re proud of that.”
But she noted the pool of people willing to work as bus drivers isn’t as large as it used to be.
Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at email@example.com.