The Download: The T’s contract problem

The Boston Globe yesterday wrote another chapter in the ongoing saga that chronicles failures at the MBTA, this time regarding the T’s relationship to Mass Bay Commuter Rail, the company that manages the commuter rail that serves 134,000 people daily. A three-month Globe investigation found that the T approved a number of contract changes that essentially rewarded the company for running trains on time and minimized financial penalties when it did not. The result: “millions in bonuses for “on-time performance’ even when the system’s overall service is lousy.”

According to the Globe, the contract changes appear to have skirted a rule requiring MBTA board approval for changes costing more than $500,000.

The T has made similar costly contract changes before. As Jack Sullivan first reported, officials apparently approved a warranty change in 1995 that allowed Rocla, the company from which the T bought faulty concrete railroad ties, to be held liable for the ties for a shorter term than originally negotiated. The dispute over the railroad ties is in court and MBTA lawyers claimed that the official who allegedly approved the warranty changes wasn’t authorized to do so because the associated cost would have required board approval. The judge in the case did not appear to buy the argument.

The T is now in the process of replacing all of the defective concrete ties with wooden ties on the Old Colony Line, at a cost of $90 million. While the monetary value of the warranty is still in dispute, Rocla could have been liable for the replacement of the faulty ties under the original warranty.

In both cases, there is no guarantee a review of a contract or warranty change at the MBTA board level would have changed anything, but a higher level of scrutiny might have stopped a small mistake from ballooning into a much larger one.

                                                                                                                                                              –CHRISTINA PRIGNANO  


BEACON HILL

State Auditor Suzanne Bump continues her media blitz about the recent shake-up in her office and earns praise from The MetroWest Daily News.

US Sen. Scott Brown tells graduates of Lasell College in Newton that the charges against former House Speaker Sal DiMasi are the result of one-party rule in Masschusetts. NECN has a report, but no video. Here’s the Globe’s take.

Howie Carr leaps to the defense of the embattled Governor’s Council.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

More piling on. The Eagle-Tribune reports its stories about Mayor William Lantigua’s girlfriend collecting federal fuel aid attracted almost 1,000 online comments, “far more than on other stories about Lantigua administration controversies.” In an editorial, the paper calls for more scrutiny of the entire process of handing out federal aid. Meanwhile, Adrian Walker calls the mayor the biggest problem facing Lawrence.

Weston aims to create more affordable housing through creation of a trust fund.

Falmouth looks for ways to improve the town’s drinking water.

President Obama sends Springfield a birthday letter.

Fitchburg looks to charge residents for trash pickup.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Sen. John Kerry headed to Pakistan yesterday after expressing hope that US-Pakistani relations can be improved following the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.

Rahm Emnauel is sworn in as mayor of Chicago today. Vice President Biden attends.

A Gallup poll finds that the numbers of people who believe that President Obama was born outside the US is declining.

Happy Debt Ceiling Day!

ELECTION 2012

With Newt Gingrich in the running and Mitch Daniels on the fence, the New York Times Magazine dives into the issue of marriage in a White House run.

Mike Huckabee decides against running for president.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

When it comes to cashing in, nobody beats The Mouse: The Walt Disney Company has filed a trademark application for “Seal Team 6” to cover, among other things, clothing, footwear, games, toys and “entertainment and education services.”

With the economy still struggling to turn around, animal advocates tell the New Bedford Standard Times that South Coast shelters are overwhelmed as pet owners who are out of work and money can’t afford to feed their pets or get necessary veterinary care and drop them off at the shelters.

The Globe editorializes in favor of letting soldiers choose their own sneakers, whether or not they are American-made.

Former US Senator John Sununu draws from the experience of other states in his Globe column arguing in favor of “right to work” legislation in New Hampshire.

EDUCATION

Hull school officials have turned over to police several cell phones they confiscated from students during an investigation into “sexting” but many parents are livid, saying the children’s privacy rights were violated.  

Hamilton Town Meeting voters send the Hamilton-Wenham school budget back for a rewrite – with $321,658 less, the Salem News reports.

HEALTH CARE

Paul Levy says Mitt Romney’s declaration that states can solve health care puzzle on their own like Massachusetts is a fallacy, pointing out Romney’s bill could not have been passed without the $300 million federal Medicaid waiver. The American Spectator doubts Romney’s effort to frame the debate as an issue of federalism as a way to avoid focus on the individual mandate will fly in the Republican primary.

A state health study has found a direct correlation between family income and obesity with poorer communities likely to have a higher rate of obesity.

Newt Gingrich knocks Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. Meanwhile, would-be Medicare reformers point to a cost-cutting experiment in Rhode Island.

RedMassGroup compares Gov. Patrick’s global payment health care plan to Ayn Rand’s Unification Boards.

The Globe reports on the long ride many New Hampshire veterans must take to the VA medical center in Boston to receive medical care.

TRANSPORTATION

A Brookings Institution study finds that the Pioneer Valley Regional Transit Authority and the Greenfield Franklin Regional Transit Authority do well at linking residents with jobs.

Taxi ridership is up in Boston, reports the Globe, thanks in part to now-widespread credit card usage by passengers. Cab drivers say the fees associated with card use are making it harder to turn a profit.

IMMIGRATION

The daughter of Pedro Tavarez, an immigrant who was fighting deportation when he died in state custody in 2009, has filed a lawsuit against officials at the Suffolk County House of Correction for waiting too long to bring him to the hospital.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Globe reports on a greener jet engine being developed by GE that could potentially save the military money as well as sustain GE’s aviation operations in Lynn and elsewhere.

The Globe reports on the new home for the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Lynn woman organizes Slutwalk Boston, a protest of a blame-the-victim culture in dealing with sexual assaults, the Item reports.