Agency has blown through 72 percent of annual OT budget

Metro spent 42 percent more than budgeted for overtime in the first six months of its fiscal year, or an extra $12.7 million, using the high-paying hours to fix and inspect trains and fill staffing gaps.

Metro used up about 72 percent of its annual overtime budget between July and December, a new report shows, putting the transit agency on track to once again blow through its overtime budget for the year. Metro budgeted $30 million for the first half of the year and spent $42.7 million.

Racking up the overtime bucks
Fiscal year Budgeted Spent Amount over budget
2013 (July to December) $30.0m $42.7m $12.7m
2012 $57.1m $84.4m $27.3m
2011 $48.0m $79.9m $31.9m

The agency has struggled to meet its budget on overtime in the last several years, consistently spending more than planned, including $27.3 million more in 2012 and $31.9 million in 2011.

Metro spent the most on overtime in July, when it doled out $9.7 million, about $4.5 million more than it budgeted. Spokesman Philip Stewart said the agency needed the overtime to make repairs related to the June derecho and the summer heat, including air conditioning on rail cars.

The agency reduced costs in the following months, hitting a low in December by spending $6 million on overtime, $900,000 more than budgeted.

"From a peak in July, overtime has declined every month from August through December," Stewart said. "In the second quarter, overtime this year was lower than last year."

Metro said it needed the overtime hours for rail car repairs -- including repairing air conditioning, doors and brakes -- as well as to cover vacancies and days off for other employees.

The transit agency uses overtime for weekend track work, even though crews regularly shut down stations for the intense repair work, which is scheduled months in advance.

The report points out that the agency spent less on salaries in the last six months than it budgeted, offsetting the cost of overtime.

The overtime hours come even as Metro is battling driver fatigue. A November report in The Washington Examiner found that 67 bus drivers were caught on camera falling asleep at the wheel over 19 months. Similar articles in The Examiner prompted Metro officials to investigate ways to curb long hours and fatigue.

"We've absolutely from the beginning of this discussion said that excessive overtime leading to fatigue is a safety issue," said Metro board member Mortimer Downey. "That's where we really drew the line and said, 'You have to do something about that.' We were getting reports of people working 18 hours, seven days a week. We said, 'That's just inviting disaster.' "

But Metro said using overtime strategically is common for transit agencies.

"Overtime has a connection to vacancies and unplanned events," Stewart said. "We would also note that the strategic use of overtime is a well-established practice in the transit industry."