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Struggling IndyGo pays big for technology expertise: At $94 an hour, IT director raises some eyebrows

March 28, 2005

Financially struggling IndyGo is paying a handsome sum to its information technology director, hired to help turn around a city bus system that began 2004 with a $4 million budget deficit.

Dale Meyers would earn about $188,000 if he worked 40 hours a week, based on a $94-an-hour employment agreement inked last July.

Meyers' pay would dwarf the $120,000 annual salary of Indy-Go CEO Gilbert Holmes. It's also salty compared to others' in his field. The median pay for an IT director in Indianapolis is $134,801, according to Salary.com.

The hourly rate is also in stark contrast to IndyGo's 250 drivers, who earn an average of $17.56 an hour, according to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1070.

IndyGo Communications Manager Ronnetta Slaughter said it's misleading to compare drivers' pay with that of the IT director. Unlike union workers, Meyers receives no employee benefits under his contract, she said.

He also is considered a temporary employee, although the length of his employment has not been set.

Slaughter added that it is uncommon for Meyers to work 40 hours a week, so it is inappropriate to conclude he would earn $188,000 in his first year.

Moreover, IndyGo said Meyers' directive to upgrade outdated and neglected internal systems stands to save the bus line huge amounts of money.

Meyers was hired last summer as part of a $100,000 federal grant to develop a technology plan for the municipal bus line.

Already, Meyers said, he's found that IndyGo was paying a steep $1 a minute for long-distance phone service. He ditched the plan for one that charges 6.9 cents a minute.

Some systems are on the verge of disaster, he said, including a computer that controls fire alarms, security and ventilation of bus fumes in the maintenance garage. The computer, which runs 24 hours a day, is based on an operating system IndyGo's vendors no longer support.

"The technology here is so old that at some point in time it's going to quit working," Meyers said.

In some cases, IndyGo didn't keep track of how many buses were in for maintenance or what kind of repairs were needed. Meyers is setting up a tracking system he hopes will improve preventive maintenance and reduce breakdowns.

Beyond shoring up old systems, Meyers is looking at deploying new technology.

One idea is a global positioning system that would allow dispatchers to track when a bus was running late or early. That information could even be put on the Internet for passengers to view. The GPS system could also relay to headquarters how many passengers boarded a given bus, data that could be used to adjust frequency of service.

Further down the line, the technology director wants to put a trip-planning program on IndyGo's Web site. A prospective passenger could type in his address and the address of his destination, and receive the necessary bus route, stops and times. That could boost ridership among computer-savvy young people, he said.

Meyers' predecessor earned $40,500 a year, but that position did not involve as broad a scope of work or supervisory responsibilities, Slaughter said.

Union officials said they were aware of the IT director's compensation, but declined to comment. They're preparing to negotiate a new contract with IndyGo. The current pact expires Dec. 31.

The employment agreement with Meyers has caused some grumbling among IndyGo employees. Those objections center on his pay level rather than on the quality of his work.

"From what I could tell, he's doing a good job," said Curtis Wiley, chairman of the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp. board.

Last summer, the board accepted a recommendation from staff that the bus system move forward with a review of Indy-Go's technological capabilities.

Wiley said the Indiana Department of Transportation, where he formerly served as commissioner, enjoyed "phenomenal gains" when it went down the same path years ago.

"We started behind [other transit systems] and we're having to catch up" at IndyGo, he added.

Meyers previously worked for CNA Financial's Nashville, Tenn., insurance unit, and for Indianapolis health insurer Anthem Inc., according to IndyGo.

The transit system relies mostly on taxpayer subsidies to operate. It began 2004 with a projected $4 million deficit, but cut that roughly in half through fare increases, route cuts and layoffs of about two dozen employees.

Meanwhile, the city loaned IndyGo about $2 million to close the budget gap.

The bus company is seeking to boost ridership in a number of ways, including revising decades-old routes to reflect changing population patterns. It also is putting more buses at the doorsteps of big employers, including Hewlett-Packard Co.'s manufacturing facility at Park 100.

Officials from IndyGo and the Metropolitan Planning Organization plan to unveil a "comprehensive organizational analysis" March 30. It will include broad recommendations for improving service and will frame how IndyGo should fit into a regional transportation system. Buses could provide connections to a proposed light rail system stretching from downtown into Hamilton County suburbs.
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