Bus drivers with no assignments yesterday sit around playing chess at the Kingsbridge Depot because the MTA reduced service.
Scores of MTA bus drivers spent a happy holiday week at their garages, collecting paychecks for playing chess and dominos and watching TV because the agency cut service — to save money.
The cash-strapped MTA slashed bus service around the city from Christmas through yesterday because it expected fewer riders.
The good news: It saved money in fuel and maintenance costs.
The bad news: The savings would have been a lot bigger if the MTA hadn’t been doling out wages to bored bus drivers.
“We are there for eight hours with nothing to do,” said one bus driver who asked not to be identified. “We’re watching TV, basically just hanging around talking.’’
An MTA spokesman said there was little the agency could do to adjust staffing levels, saying it needs to change union rules requiring bus drivers to get five full shifts a week.
“Savings would be much greater . . . if we were able to schedule part-time bus operators,” he said. “That’s why it’s one of many work-rule changes we’re negotiating with the union.’’
But Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen asked, “What do they expect, a bus driver to eat a day without pay because they changed the schedule?”
Samuelsen blamed the MTA for the debacle. He said union rules provide enough flexibility that the MTA could have worked out something to keep at least some of the drivers from getting paid for nothing.
“If they used some forethought, they could have prevented this,” he said.
During the holiday week, depots were teeming with drivers pocketing paychecks for doing nothing.
“Every day, you had drivers sitting around at any given time — from 15 to 35 people,” said another driver.
At the Kingsbridge Depot in upper Manhattan, a Post reporter spotted about 30 uniformed bus drivers lounging in the break room at about 7 a.m. yesterday.
On a typical day at that time, that room is close to empty, with most drivers out — driving.
So many drivers on the 6 a.m.-to-2 p.m. shift were taking up space that they were told to go home — to make room for colleagues to come in and do nothing.
The holiday service cuts are part of a plan for designated low- ridership days that the MTA expects will save $2 million a year in costs for everything but its drivers.
What the plan doesn’t include is huge staffing reductions.
The MTA did make some allowances by not filling in vacationing workers’ times — but in most cases, it wasn’t enough.
The only days the MTA didn’t pay many drivers for sitting around were Christmas and New Year’s.
Those two days — when workers receive double pay for working an 8-hour shift — fell on Sundays, when staffing already is at lower levels.