MBTA still having problems with some contracts

Collision-avoidance system, paratransit call center are 2 examples 

Two years ago, when the Green Line extension ballooned in cost from $2 to $3 billion, the project highlighted the MBTA’s inability to hire competent contractors and to oversee their work to a satisfactory completion. 

The Green Line extension now appears to be back on track; the price has been pared back to $2.3 billion and a new team has been put in place to oversee the contractors working on the project. T officials are also keeping a close eye on the massive $843 million contract with a Chinese company for new Red and Orange Line cars, which will be assembled at a new facility in Springfield.  

But as the T ramps up its spending to bring the transit system into a state of good repair, more and more contracts are going out the door. As some recent contracts have shown, some of the problems associated with hiring contractors and overseeing their work haven’t disappeared. 

The MBTA’S Fiscal and Management Control Board reacted with alarm earlier this week to reports of quality assurance problems on a $459 million contract with an Italian firm to install a federally mandated system to prevent commuter rail train collisions. Joe Aiello, the chairman of the board, called the reports “really disturbing” and fellow board member Brian Lang said he was sick and tired of hearing about contractors “running amok.” He even asked MBTA staff to start keeping track of how much time and resources are spent fixing “screw-ups” by private contractors. 

Problems have also surfaced with a contractor given a 4.5-year, $38.5 million contract in July 2016 to consolidate three call centers for the MBTA’s paratransit service. Two of the call centers have been combined by Global Contract Services, but consolidation of the third has been delayed twice because of fears that customer service, which suffered when the merger process first began, would deteriorate further. It now appears millions of dollars in expected savings from the call center consolidation are unlikely to materialize and it’s unclear when the process will get back on track. 

Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the T, issued a statement saying the authority is monitoring both contracts closely. He noted Ansaldo, the Italian contractor on the collision-avoidance system, is expected to present a “mitigation plan” to the T shortly. “It’s important to note that, despite these issues, neither the timeline nor the cost for the overall project has changed,” he said. 

As for the Global Contract Services contract, Pesaturo said the T is fully committed to making sure the company provides “the level of service paratransit customers expect and deserve.” He said the T has installed new leadership at the RIDE, hired a consultant to assess Global’s operations, and embedded T staff at Global’s facility in Medford. “The MBTA is withholding hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments while Global works to implement the corrective actions necessary to fulfill its contractual obligations,” he said. 

The mere fact that the T had to hire a consultant, Accenture, to assess Global’s operations illustrates how badly the contracting process had gone off track. Accenture’s $171,000 report, presented privately to T officials on August 11, indicated Global was woefully unprepared for the job it was hired to do. The report was full of nuts-and-bolts observations about what Global needs to do to step up its game, but a series of slides at the end of the report highlighted how much work remains to be done. 

The slides ranked how Global was doing in 12 different categories covering everything from employee training to quality assurance to worker recruitment. The rankings, displayed on what looked like the volume-adjustment mechanism on an iPhone, ranged from nonexistent to baseline to peer parity to leading. Accenture said Global should push for being in the leading category in all 12 areas, but the slides indicated the firm was currently somewhere between baseline and nonexistent. In two of the categories – workforce management execution and training materials – Global was in the nonexistent area.  

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

 

 

  • QuincyQuarry.com

    Let’s not forget valid contracting concerns about basic construction work.

    For example, the start dates to close the Wollaston Red Line station for 20 months to supposedly facilitate its reconstruction as well as begin the partial demolition of the condemned and so closed over five years ago Quincy Center station garage have been pushed back by over three to almost six months, respectively, into December.

    Are more delays to follow?

    Even more disconcerting, the winning bidder on both of these projects is arguably the phoenix of Modern Continental of Big Dig infamy as well as appears to have never done projects of this sort or scale AND it’s joint venture is an(other) Italian firm that is said to never done any such projects – if any work – in the US.

    What could possibly go wrong …