Tracking Transportation

Tracking Transportation

Keeping track of transportation

T passes exempt from fare constraints

T passes exempt from fare constraints

Pollack says monthly passes are not 'fares'

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION is adopting a definition of the word fare that would allow the MBTA to increase the prices of bus and subway passes at any time and by any amount.

A state law passed in 2013 limits MBTA fare increases to no more than 10 percent every two years. The Baker administration this week said it is taking the position that bus and rail passes are not fares and are therefore exempt from the law.

The issue arose on Monday when the T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board voted unanimously to seek public comment on two options for fare increases that would take effect July 1. One option would increase base fares 5 percent and the other 10 percent, while both approaches would boost the cost of many popular passes by greater amounts.

The popular LinkPass, which offers unlimited bus and subway travel, would go up 12.5 percent under one of the proposals. The local bus pass would go up 16 percent under one option and 19.5 percent under the other.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said both of the fare options being mulled by the T’s oversight board comply with the 2013 law because base fares and overall system-wide fares would not increase more than 10 percent. Under both options, Charlie Card fares would increase less than 10 percent. The system-wide fare increase under the first option is 6.71 percent and 9.77 percent under the second.

“A pass is not a fare,” Pollack told reporters. “A pass is actually a discount from a fare, and that is the legal interpretation. So that is why we are proposing two different changes in fares. No fare goes up by more than 10 percent. System-wide fares don’t go up by more than 10 percent. But we’re giving less of a discount to pass holders in both scenarios.”

Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said in an email that the definition of fares cited by Pollack “is based upon the common understanding and usage of those terms and is contained in the MBTA’s fare policy.”

The transit agency’s fare policy doesn’t specifically define a fare, but it does draw a distinction between fare media (Charlie Card, Charlie ticket, and cash) and unlimited ride passes.

Asked whether the T’s definition for fare would allow increases in T pass prices at any time and by any amount, Goddard said: “The MBTA’s position is that our passes offer a discount from the fare, and that the MBTA has discretion as to whether to offer such discounts, and, if so, in what amounts.”

Rafael Mares, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said he was surprised at the administration’s definition of a fare. He said he suspected most people would think what they pay to ride the T would qualify as a fare, whether they purchased a Charlie ticket at the station or a month-long pass through their employer.

“They’re trying to change the meaning of words in order to change the cost of public transportation every year,” he said.

Rep. William Straus, the House chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said he didn’t see a difference between paying with a pass and paying with a Charlie ticket. “I didn’t understand the distinction she appeared to be making,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said. “I’d be surprised if there’s a legislator voting on these types of issues who thinks there’s any kind of difference there.”

Sen. Thomas McGee, the Senate chairman of the committee, had a similar take on Pollack’s remarks. The Lynn Democrat said the meaning of the word fare is probably a gray area in the law that the Legislature may need to clarify, but he said most people wouldn’t see a distinction between an MBTA pass and a fare.

“It seems to me they’re all fares,” he said. “It’s what you pay to get on. I say absolutely it’s a fare.”

Commuter rail train derails in Andover

Commuter rail train derails in Andover

4 a.m. incident under investigation; no one injured

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

A COMMUTER RAIL TRAIN without any passengers derailed north of the Andover station Tuesday morning, a day after MBTA overseers advanced two options for hiking fares this year by roughly 6.7 percent or 9.7 percent.

Mac Daniel, a spokesman for Keolis Commuter Services, the commuter rail operator, said the train was traveling northbound to set up for morning service. The derailment occurred about 4 a.m., according to Daniel, who said a conductor and an engineer were on board and no one was injured.

The two derailed coaches – which did not tip over – clogged railroad commutes north of Boston as it tied up trains farther up the line. Keolis canceled some runs and used buses to transport riders between Haverhill and Andover.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the incident is under investigation.

“The Federal Railroad Administration has three inspectors on site where the MBTA derailment occurred near Andover earlier today and is investigating the cause. Prior to the line returning to active service, MBTA must inspect the repaired section of track, along with signals and any switches within the derailment area, as required by federal regulations,” a Federal Railroad spokesperson said in a statement.

Daniel said officials are looking at track infrastructure as the possible cause of the derailment and expects commuter rail service to be “full steam” for the afternoon commute. On Tuesday afternoon, Daniel said the first train had just recently traversed the section of repaired track.

“The track structure failed. We don’t really know why at this point,” Rich Murphy, director of train operations for Keolis, said in a video posted online Tuesday morning explaining the delays.

Including the derailed train, five trains were trapped north of Andover as a result of the accident, according to Keolis.

Daniel said officials are looking at track infrastructure as the possible cause of the derailment and expects commuter rail service to be “full steam” for the afternoon commute. On Tuesday afternoon, Daniel said the first train had just recently traversed the section of repaired track.

“The track structure failed. We don’t really know why at this point,” Rich Murphy, director of train operations for Keolis, said in a video posted online Tuesday morning explaining the delays.

Including the derailed train, five trains were trapped north of Andover as a result of the accident, according to Keolis.

T to seek comment on 2 fare options

T to seek comment on 2 fare options

Base prices would rise 5% or 10%, most passes would go up more

THE MBTA’S OVERSIGHT BOARD voted unanimously on Monday to seek public comment on two proposals that would raise base fares by either 5 or 10 percent while increasing the price of many popular T passes by greater amounts.

Under the two proposals, the Charlie Card single-ride subway fare would rise from $2.10 to either $2.20 (an increase of 4.8 percent) or $2.25 (a boost of 7.1 percent).  Those using a Charlie ticket for a subway ride would see the fare rise from $2.65 to $2.75 under both options.

Meanwhile, the popular LinkPass, which offers unlimited bus and subway travel, would go from $75 a month to either $82.50 (an increase of 10 percent) or $84.50 (a 12.7 percent increase).  The local bus pass would rise from $50 a month to either $58 (a 16 percent increase) or $59.75 (a 19.5 percent increase). The student LinkPass would rise under both proposals from $26 to $32, an increase of 23.1 percent.  The commuter rail portion of most commuter rail passes would barely change under the two proposals.

The T’s five-member Fiscal Management and Control Board was presented with four different fare options by agency staff and voted to seek public comment on just two of those. The two proposals that were rejected would have raised the price of all fare products by 5 or 10 percent, and would not have increased pass prices appreciably.

T officials said they plan to seek public comment on the two proposals in January and February, vote on a final fare proposal in March, and then have it take effect on July 1. They said the final proposal may end up being very different from what is being put on the table now.

Although the fare increase discussion is beginning before the T tries to bring spending more in line with revenues, officials at the transit agency stressed that they are not putting the cart before the horse. They said the fare discussion was dictated by the time needed to implement a fare increase on July 1. They said the actual fare increase would come only after other measures are taken to close an estimated $242 million budget gap for fiscal 2017, which begins July 1.

“We have a lot of work to do on cost containment and increasing non-fare revenue so that the public is satisfied that the fare increase that would take effect on July 1 is part of a broader strategy and we’re not going to our riders first,” said Stephanie Pollack, the governor’s secretary of transportation, who sits in on the oversight board’s meetings. “That said, we’re probably going to need our riders to help us out in closing the budget gap.”

T officials said their analysis indicates the 5 percent option would not have a disproportionate impact on poor or minority riders. A similar analysis of the 10 percent option is not completed yet, apparently because it was added late to the list of options presented to the Fiscal Management and Control Board.

A law passed in 2013 limits any fare increase to 10 percent over a two-year period, although some state senators and transportation advocates claim the law allows only a 5 percent increase. Pollack said both pricing proposals approved by the Fiscal Management and Control Board on Monday do not exceed the 10 percent threshold for base fares. She said the system-wide average increase for the two proposals would be 6.71 percent and 9.77 percent. She acknowledged the price of many T passes will go up more than 10 percent, but she said passes are not fares; she described passes as discounts off of fares.

“We have very deeply discounted passes, more than other big-city transit systems,” Pollack said. “Our passes are a great deal. We want them to stay a good deal, but we think there’s room to increase the cost of the passes without losing ridership.”

The cost of the LinkPass, for example, would rise to either $82.50 or $84.50 under the two proposals going to the public for comment. MBTA staff said the equivalent pass in other cites goes for much more — $116.50 in New York City, $91 in Philadelphia, $100 in Chicago, and $100 in Portland, Oregon.

Pollack also noted that many T customers purchase transit passes through payroll deductions using pretax dollars, which tends to limit the impact of any price increase. For example, she said a customer purchasing a LinkPass through payroll deductions would see his paycheck decline by only $3 if the price of a LinkPass rose $7.50 to $82.50.

The T has already included $23.4 million in revenue from a 5 percent increase in base prices in its budget outline for fiscal 2017. The two options now on the table would bring in an extra $9.8 million or $26 million. The total revenue yield from the two proposed fare options would be $33.2 million and $49.4 million, respectively.

T officials estimate the two fare proposals would decrease ridership by 1.2 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively. But the officials said the estimates are conservative and are unlikely to come to pass. They noted ridership actually went up after fares were increased in fiscal 2014, at least until January 2015 when heavy snowstorms disabled the transit system.

T officials hope to close the bulk of the fiscal 2017 budget deficit through internal cost control measures; increased revenues from advertising, real estate, and parking; and by eliminating or out-sourcing services with low ridership or high subsidies. For example, T officials are working to reduce overtime costs, which have risen sharply the last few years. They said they also plan to offer some workers early retirement , reduce bus maintenance costs, and shift 30 percent of people using The Ride to taxis and ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft.

In fiscal 2016, the T collected $602.6 million in fare revenue, which represented about 40 percent of its non-debt operating expenses. State law sets a goal of 50 percent, but reaching that target will probably take time. Indeed, T officials said the percentage may decline slightly in the coming fiscal year as workers currently being paid with capital funds are shifted to the operating budget.

T officials acknowledged that many fares are going uncollected currently because of bureaucratic failures or fare evasion, but they said they couldn’t estimate the size of the losses.

Officials said the T website would be equipped later this week with an interactive system that will allow riders to check how the two fare proposals would personally affect them.  In the meantime, to review the fare increases, click here.

The T officials said they had considered more exotic fare approaches, including pricing based on when a person rides the T or based on a user’s income. But the officials said they concluded there wasn’t enough time before July 1 to put such complicated systems in place.

Pollack described raising fares as a balancing act. “A larger increase would bring more money to the T and mean other things wouldn’t have to be cut,” she said. “But we also know that it would have a greater impact on our riders, so we need to balance those two things.”

After a meeting of Beacon Hill’s Big Three, legislative leaders raised concerns about fare hikes. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he would first like to see other revenue options explored, while Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he was worried that fare hikes would discourage riders from using the T. He also said he believes state law limits any fare hike to 5 percent.

Gov. Charlie Baker seemed more open to a fare increase, suggesting that those who use the transit agency should bear more of its cost. “We should never forget most people in Massachusetts who don’t ride the T write a billion-dollar check every year to support the T, and we need to keep their interests in mind as we have this conversation.”

T leaders say fares can go up 10%

Officials review new ways to assess charges

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

AS MBTA LEADERS CONSIDER FARE INCREASES of as much as 10 percent starting July 1 and the potential for fares based on ability to pay, a top official suggested new ways to modernize fare collection.

MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve said the T should move toward an “open payment system” where riders could use phones or debit cards to pay fares and the T could maintain travelers’ accounts.

London’s transportation system, which utilizes an open payment system, allows riders to view travel history, seek refunds for delays and “top up” their credit, according to its website.

“Heading towards an open system will be a top priority,” Shortsleeve told members of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board.

The current Charlie Card system allows riders who have one to tap the card – even if it’s within a wallet – against a spot on the fare gate, a technological upgrade to the old token system.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the establishment of the Charlie Card system foreclosed the opportunity to charge riders based on distance traveled.

“One of the mistakes that we don’t want to repeat is letting technology drive the business decision,” Pollack said. She said, “There was never a policy discussion. No one ever voted we don’t want distance-based fares.”

Subway riders pay the same fare to travel the few blocks between Copley and Arlington on the Green Line as they do between Braintree and Revere.

The control board on Monday approved a fare policy that will serve as a framework for fare discussions set to start in earnest next year. The policy allows for as much as a 10 percent hike every two years. Some transit activists claim the law limiting the size of fare increases should permit only 5 percent hikes every two years.

Claiming the MBTA has an inordinate amount of in-house fare collection infrastructure – such as a money room in Charlestown – Shortsleeve said “industry can help us” upgrade automatic fare collection and said at a bare minimum it would take three years to make a switch in technology.

The Legislature last summer freed up the MBTA to privatize services by suspending a law that requires private service providers to meet certain standards regarding the cost and quality of services.

The MBTA spends about $34 million to collect its “$600 million-plus revenue every year,” Shortsleeve said.

“We have about 600 gate failures per year,” said Shortsleeve, who said when gates fail they remain open for safety reasons. If a vendor were to handle the gates, the vendor would pay the agency for gate failures instead of the T losing money now when gates are open and passengers walk through without paying, Shortsleeve said.

Shortsleeve suggested an account-based payment system could be necessary to move towards a means-based fare system, where the cost of a ride would vary based on a customer’s ability to pay. At least two members of the control board have advocated moving towards means-based fares.

T maintenance worker paid $315,000

T maintenance worker paid $315,000

Official says employee worked 2,600 hours of overtime

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

THE HIGHEST-PAID MBTA EMPLOYEE has been paid about $315,000 so far in 2015, working 4,455 hours, MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve told the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday.

That worker, who is a maintenance of way employee, receives a base salary of $85,000 and worked about 2,600 hours of overtime, according to the T. The employee also received $59,000 in back pay this year.

Lisa Calise, a member of the control board, noted the unnamed worker was on the clock for an “incredible number of hours” – the equivalent of two full-time employees.

Calise suggested an audit be undertaken on the situation, asking, “Is this case an anomaly?”

Shortsleeve’s presentation occurred amid discussions of fare increases and cuts to The Ride and early-morning weekend service. A $242 million deficit is projected for fiscal 2017.

MBTA employees received over $100,000 in gross pay this year at a greater rate than executive branch employees, according to Shortsleeve’s presentation. About 24 percent of the 6,482 T employees have grossed over $100,000, compared to 7.7 percent of the 44,141 executive branch employees.

Some retroactive pay raises went into effect this year at the T, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

The average $35.58 hourly wage for MBTA rail employees exceeds the average for the top five American transit agencies and is 30 percent above the national average, according to Shortsleeve’s presentation.

For MBTA bus operators, who make an average of $34.99 per hour, the disparity is even greater. T bus drivers make about 50 percent more than the national average and significantly more than the average of the top five US transit agencies average.

Shortsleeve’s presentation cited an analysis of John A. Dash & Associates.

‘Twas the night before …

‘Twas the night before …

Taking poetic license with the MBTA

Copy of Let’s stop talking about a piecemeal public policy approach to a problem best addressed by a fully stocked policy toolkit

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

And I jumped out of bed

With visions of runaway trains

In my head.

 

My dreams, once sullied by

Goblins and witches

Now were made scary by

Levers and switches.

 

Jolted awake,

I roamed the dark house,

Disturbing the cat who was

Stalking a mouse.

 

“Sorry,” said I

To my predatory pet,

“That mouse was a morsel

You’ll have to forget.”

 

“Meow,” said the cat

(And I knew what he meant):

He had nothing to show

For all his time spent.

 

I stumbled about

In search of my Mac,

Tripped on a rug and

Threw out my back.

 

And I thought as I lay there

Flat on the floor:

On the topic of transport

Could I possibly say more?

 

I’d been writing and speaking

And offering ways

To improve the T system

And bring better days

 

To commuters and riders

With a simple request:

For transit mobility,

Why not the best?

 

Not everyone shared

This pro-transit view.

Purveyors of old-think

Have a hard time with new.

 

And history repeats itself

Many times over

As voices of retrenchment

Get bolder and bolder.

 

More yappy than beagles

They shouted “for shame!

We won’t raise more revenue

And we won’t take the blame”.

 

“Reform without revenue” –

The slogan sounds pretty

Until you get down to the

Nitty and  gritty.

 

And then you can see

As you look at the facts

That we’ve shortchanged transit

Through a series of acts

 

That over the decades have

Caused this decline

Through lack of investment

Without reason or rhyme.

 

I pulled out my laptop

And sat by the fire,

Asking: how did we get

To this awful quagmire?

 

It will take $7 billion

Just to repair

All that needs fixing

But I didn’t despair –

 

I poured me an eggnog

Laced with some brandy,

The kind of sleep aid

I always keep handy.

 

And the drink did its trick

For in less time than it seemed

I nodded off in my chair

And started to dream . . .

 

T riders were nestled

All snug in their beds

Wiped out from commutes

That gave pain to their heads.

 

Their dreams were of trolleys

And buses and bike lanes

And quality service on

All sorts of new trains –

 

Trains that arrived

Modern and gleaming

And always on time,

both morning and evening.

 

As night became morning

I woke from the dream

With my cat on my lap,

Its paws in my spleen.

 

I woke bright and merry

And thought I would write

On the importance of getting

Our transit future right.

 

As I started to type

My thoughts flowed like honey:

The T needs investment.

The T needs more money.

 

More funding for fixing

Systems old and quite broken.

More funding for maintenance –

Much more than a token.

 

More funding to innovate

So we keep up the pace –

Embracing the future

Means winning the race.

 

Accelerated bridge repair

Was thought a “no-brainer.”

Let’s do that for transit

It couldn’t be plainer.

 

Then I stopped in a start

And thought: “say no more.

You’ve said this already,

You’ve said this before.”

 

So I shut down the Mac:

I had no more to say.

And I tried to relax and

Enjoy Christmas Day.

 

And I hope, dear reader, that

This brought you some cheer.

Best wishes for now,

And a transit-friendly New Year.

 

With apologies (and thanks) to Clement Clarke Moore and Dr. Seuss. James Aloisi is a former state transportation secretary and a principal at the Pemberton Square Group.

GLX: It’s not just about transportation

GLX: It’s not just about transportation

Green Line extension is also about economic development, quality of life

I GUESS EVERY ORGANIZATION needs a mission statement.  So in 2010, the senior staff of the newly created MassDOT was taking a crack at it, one day, around the secretary’s conference table.  One long-serving transportation bureaucrat suggested that the mission should be:  To run the best transportation system in the country.  Others at the table nodded their assent.  But I asked a simple question:  “Why?”  Judging by their reaction, you might have thought I had just told them that God did not exist.  To them, her statement was as unquestionable as the truths that Jefferson deemed to be “self-evident.”  Long story short, after some further prodding, the group finally decided on a mission statement for the agency that allowed that we wanted to run the best transportation system in the country in order to promote economic development and improve the quality of life for our residents and visitors to the Commonwealth.

The importance of transportation infrastructure in promoting economic development, and supporting the existing economy of the Commonwealth, is as undeniable as the increased real estate values and business activity along any of the T’s existing transit lines.  Recognizing this, then-Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi created the position of deputy secretary for real estate and economic development in 2009, a role in which I served but that no longer exists.

In early June of this year, Secretary Stephanie Pollack, appearing on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio program, expressed her astonishment at discovering that people at 10 Park Plaza (the state Transportation Building) “think it’s about transportation.”  She elaborated, and I was compelled to tweet:  “Sec. Pollack . . . says transportation is about economic development. My heart leaps with joy!”

Perhaps a little overdramatic (me, not her), but still.  The hardworking people at the Transportation Building have their plates full.  I’ve been a state employee, and the challenges of trying to accomplish the simplest things in a bureaucracy of that size cannot be overstated, so it is no criticism to say that most of the folks at 10 Park Plaza have enough to do with the “transportation” jobs they’ve been assigned.  But that can’t be the end of the discussion.

O'Connor, Peter

Which brings us to the Green Line Extension, also known as GLX.  When I was at the Transportation Building I encountered two real estate developments, one a small residential project and one a very large, mixed-use project, that got started along the proposed GLX.  I think it’s safe to say that, in both cases, the investment decisions about both projects were undertaken on the assumption that GLX was a real project.

Years after some of these investments were made, but less than six months after my celebratory tweet, the Boston Globe reports:  “State Won’t Rule Out Cancelling Green Line Extension.”  Three billion dollars, the current estimated cost of the project, is a lot of money.  Frankly, it’s too much money for this project.  The entire Big Dig project, the largest public infrastructure undertaking of its time, cost a little over $14 billion.  So no reasonable person is suggesting that taxpayers, and fare payers, simply cough up that kind of money.  Of course. the whole thing needs to be reexamined, “reset,” or however you want to describe it.  Maybe the stations should be scaled down, or a number of other “value engineering” ideas that have been suggested can be implemented. And throwing out the existing contracts and procurement method, as MassDOT has done, only makes sense, given the results thus far.

But let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot.  The benefits, in terms of real estate investment, economic development, employment, and the taxes coming back to the state are enormous. If we did a scientific cost/benefit analysis of the project over the long term, there’d be no question of whether or not to build GLX in some form.

What’s troubling is the on-again, off-again, message.  This is not the first time that GLX has been deemed at jeopardy, and it’s not helpful.  For investors of private capital – from the small business owner who decides to take a loan and expand her fledgling business in Union Square, to the young couple deciding where to buy a home and raise a family, to the multinational real estate development company deciding whether to build out hundreds of thousands of square feet of biotech space near Lechmere – uncertainty about where and when the public sector is going to invest in transportation infrastructure does not reassure.

The GLX, like every other transit line, I-93, the Mass Pike, or any other transportation infrastructure, is just a way to get from point A to point B safely, conveniently, and cost effectively (on a good day).  People will pay for that, they will make decisions about where to live based on whether point A or point B are located near a transit line or an interstate highway, and financial markets will cause capital to flow, or not flow, based on where its built.

It is one thing to say that changes need to be made to a transportation investment (and they clearly do in the case of GLX), but it is quite another to throw the whole project into question.  The former is about transportation, the latter is about far more, and has more far-reaching effects – negative effects – including on economic development, which is part of MassDOT’s mission, too.

Peter O’Connor, former deputy secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, is a Boston lawyer and development consultant.  He can be reached at peteroconnorboston@gmail.com.

MBTA dumps Green Line contractors

MBTA dumps Green Line contractors

Agency plans shakeup of its own project team

THE MBTA ON THURSDAY CANCELED THE CONTRACTS of the four major firms working on the Green Line extension and announced it was also going to shake up its own internal project management team.

The decision was made after the MassDOT board and the T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board went into executive session on Wednesday to discuss “litigation strategies” in connection with the project. The two boards appear to be severing ties with the contractors, employees, and contracting approach that produced a project that ballooned in cost from $2 billion to $3 billion and in the process became the most expensive project of its kind in the country.

On the Green Line extension, state law directed the T to use a new contracting approach called construction manager/general contractor, or CM/GC, which called for the hiring of a contractor, designer, and independent cost estimator to design the project and come up with a guaranteed maximum price. A consultant hired by the T told the boards on Wednesday that the process never yielded a guaranteed maximum price.

In a press release issued by the MBTA on Thursday, the transit agency said “the current CM/GC project delivery method has proven to be impracticable to complete a redesigned and affordable Green Line extension project. The current CM/GC contract and the statute that created this project delivery system combine to render the current process unworkable. Accordingly, the Fiscal Management Control Board needed to recommend the full break from CM/GC and the associated contracts for this project.”

The four major firms working on the project were the construction manager/general contractor, White-Skanska-Kiewit; the project manager/construction manager, HDR/Gilbane; the independent cost estimator, Stanton Constructability Services; and the final designer, AECOM/HNTB. The MBTA said Green Line construction work in progress by other firms will continue.

Red Line train goes 4 stops without operator

Red Line train goes 4 stops without operator

Pollack: 'We failed our passengers today'

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

A 51-year-old Red Line motorman who saw his train exiting Braintree Station without anyone at the controls early Thursday morning quickly alerted MBTA personnel at the station, officials told reporters.

Operating in what’s known as “bypass mode” to move beyond a faulty signal, the train did not have its collision avoidance system engaged, MBTA Chief Operating Officer Jeff Gonneville said Thursday afternoon. Trains ahead of the driverless train on the line into Boston were moved out of the way and power was shut down bringing the train to a stop outside North Quincy Station, officials said.

“We failed our passengers today,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters at an afternoon press conference. Saying safety is the MBTA’s primary responsibility, Pollack said, “Something happened that should not have been able to happen that put our passengers in danger. I am personally and professionally very gratified that in fact no one was harmed, but what happened today is unacceptable, and it will be investigated and changes will be made to ensure that it doesn’t happen.”

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the operator is a 51-year-old man who has worked for the T for more than 25 years, and Pollack said he is on administrative leave. Pesaturo said the train brushed against the operator as it left the station.

While noting much of the circumstances are under investigation, Pollack said the trains are designed to travel no more than 25 miles per hour when in bypass mode. Officials said the train, which left Braintree right after 6 a.m., had about 50 passengers on it and nine minutes elapsed between the time officials were alerted to when the train came to a stop.

The MBTA was unable to communicate with the passengers during the incident, but there were no reported injuries, Pollack said.

Among the questions officials are hoping to answer through the investigation is whether the operator’s area of the vehicle was in correct condition, said Pollack, who said, “Operator error is the current focus of the investigation.”

Pollack said one element of the investigation is to determine whether a cord was wrapped around one of the train controls.

“This train was tampered with, and it was tampered with by someone who knows what he was doing,” Gov. Charlie Baker said earlier in the day, after the incident.

The entire train set was impounded and will remain impounded for the investigation, said Pollack, who said the MBTA, Transit Police, the Department of Public Utilities, and the Federal Transit Administration will meet Friday morning.

“There was a signal issue that made it necessary for the operator to request and receive from the operations control center permission to put the train into bypass mode,” Pollack said, explaining why the motorman left the vehicle to put the train in bypass mode.

Pollack said trains are put into emergency bypass mode “only when there is a signal problem,” and she said bypass is used regularly and safely.

Gonneville said to put the train in bypass mode an operator is required to use two brakes before exiting the vehicle.

Red Line vehicles have been operated by one person since 2011, said Gonneville. He said the Blue Line has been operated by one driver since the late 1990s and Orange Line trains have had a single operator since 2009.

“If safety procedures are followed properly there is no safety problem with operating trains with a single operator,” Pollack said.

“If a second person was on this train, they would have been equipped with the knowledge and ability necessary to safely bring this train to a stop,” Boston Carmen’s Union President James O’Brien said.

The Red Line trains have a collision-avoidance system, but that was not engaged on the train in bypass mode.

“With the train being in emergency bypass, the dispatchers made it necessary to clear the line ahead of this train before they then killed power to stop this train,” Gonneville said. He said MBTA officials knew within about one minute that the train had left the station without anyone at the controls.

State begins pruning Green Line extension

State begins pruning Green Line extension

Project described as most expensive in country on per-mile basis

STATE OFFICIALS TURNED TO OUTSIDE CONSULTANTS on Wednesday for help in deciding whether they should build the Green Line extension to Somerville and also ordered the MBTA not to approve any more spending on the project over the next three months without their approval.

One of the consultants characterized the Green Line extension in a way that brought back visions of the Big Dig, saying his research indicated the trolley line project as originally designed was the most expensive on a per-mile basis of any similar project in the databases of the Federal Transit Administration. The original cost estimate on the project was $2 billion, including $1 billion in federal funds, but the total cost ballooned earlier this year to $3 billion.

No decision was made on Wednesday about what to do with the project and it may take months before any action is taken, largely because the state boards that oversee the MBTA are operating in the dark. They don’t have reliable cost estimates for the existing project, so they don’t know what savings can be realized by scaling it back. A consultant recommended adopting a different contracting method for the remaining work on the project, but that would require legislative approval. And there was interest in securing additional revenue for the project from the communities and businesses that stand to benefit from the trolley line, but those discussions are barely started and so-called value capture would also require legislative approval.

“We have a chicken and egg problem,” said state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. She said businesses are unwilling to say how much money they would be willing to put up without knowing what the project will look like and state officials are reluctant to firm up the design of the project without knowing how much money they have to spend.

Three options were on the table going into the joint meeting of the T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board and the Mass DOT board – continue the project as is, cancel the project, or proceed with the Green Line extension but with modifications to the design and contracting process and with the addition of non-state funds.

All three options remained on the table at the end of the meeting, but board members, and particularly Pollack, seemed to favor doing either the second or third option. Pollack said continuing with the existing project and contracting group, White Skanska Kiewit, was unlikely because the contract is unaffordable and offers no price protection to the T.

T officials said they have already spent $380 million on the Green Line extension and, even if the project is canceled, would have to spend $362.3 million more, a figure that includes the purchase of 24 new Green Line cars. The total amount of so-called sunk costs in the project was estimated at $742.3 million.

Pollack said she has heard many people say the state should just scrap the project and use the $1 billion in state funds that would have gone for the Green Line extension to buttress other areas of the state transportation system. But she said the actual savings from scrapping the project would only be several hundred million dollars as a result of the sunk costs.

Two consulting firms offered recommendations on how to proceed with the project.  One recommendation dealt with the contracting process. According to the T’s consultants, a major cause of the ballooning cost of the Green Line extension was a new contracting process authorized by the Legislature that allowed the contractor to take advantage of the transit agency. The approach was supposed to shift the risk of cost overruns from the state to the contractor by establishing a “guaranteed maximum price,” but the T’s consultant, Geoffrey Yarema of the Nossaman law firm, said the contract price was never guaranteed. “In truth, the contracts did not have that characteristic,” he said.

Yarema recommended putting the remainder of the Green Line extension project out to bid using a so-called design-build approach, where the project designer and the builder would work in tandem to complete the job. He said he tested the waters with construction firms and received strong interest in bidding on the project. He said the new approach would shift more of the risk of overruns on to the construction firm.

Another consultant, John Karn of the design-engineering firm Arup, said he had spent seven weeks looking at ways to redesign or scale back the project to make it more affordable. He indicated significant savings could be realized because the original design yielded a project that was the most expensive in the country on a per-mile basis. A chart he showed state officials indicated the Green Line extension on a cost-per-mile basis was seven times more expensive than the average project nationally and three times more expensive than the next costliest project in San Diego.

Karn said the Green Line extension is high cost in part because it’s so short (4.7 miles long versus the 13.9-mile average length of comparable projects), it runs through a densely packed neighborhood, and it involves reconstruction of existing commuter rail lines. He said the train stations are “beyond core functionality” and a proposed maintenance facility “is larger than what is needed.”

Karn made a series of recommendations that he said could pare back costs 10 to 40 percent for various elements of the project; he declined to put a dollar value on the savings because the current cost estimates are so fuzzy.

Joseph Sullivan, the mayor of Braintree and a member of the MassDOT board, said he felt Karn’s savings range of 10 to 40 percent was extremely vague. Pollack acknowledged the fuzziness, but said she believed the savings would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. “There really are opportunities for significant savings if we’re willing to make some hard choices,” she said.

One of Arup’s proposals would condense the rail corridor and package the Green Line and commuter rail tracks in a way that would avoid relocating one of the commuter rail tracks. He also recommended relocating the community path. He said his recommended approach would yield savings of 40 percent on construction costs.

Karn recommended scaled-down train stations (23 percent cost savings on construction) and cutting the size of the maintenance facility so it could handle 44 vehicles, and possibly as few as 24, rather than the planned 80. He also recommended other design changes as well initiatives to reduce construction time by closing down commuter rail service at times while construction proceeds.

His most controversial proposal would do away with the spur on the proposed Green Line extension to Union Square in Somerville, yielding construction savings of 15 percent. He said current estimates indicate 3,600 people would board the train at Union Square on a daily basis and only 144 would have Lechmere Station as their final destination, with the rest proceeding elsewhere on the T system. He recommended directing those Union Square travelers on to a nearby commuter rail station to North Station and using buses to transport those who want to go to Lechmere.

Rafael Mares, a vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, which sued the state to force the Green Line extension as part of Big Dig mitigation, raised concerns about the Union Square proposal. He said he was OK with project changes that reduce costs, but he did not favor changes that reduce functionality.

“It strikes me that eliminating the Union Square branch and replacing it with shuttle bus service or even additional commuter rail service is taking away a substantial project benefit, and I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.

Before adjourning to discuss unspecified “topics that could lead to litigation” in regard to the Green Line extension, members of the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board passed a measure requiring T officials to come back to them for approval of any contract on the Green Line extension “regardless of value.” Pollack said the T got into its current predicament because agency officials kept pushing ahead with contracts without checking back in with the MassDOT board.

Joseph Aiello, the chair of the Fiscal Management and Control Board, said he and his colleagues have to make a decision on the Green Line extension quickly because the costs associated with the project will continue to rise. But Pollack cautioned that it will be months, not weeks, before any final decision can be made.

“There is a lot of work to be done before we can move forward with a project that is in fact affordable and fiscally responsible,” she said.

Other members of the two boards said they were reviewing all their options, but most who spoke indicated they would like to find a way to move ahead with the project.  “It’s a matter of what is really viable,” said Brian Lang, a union official who serves on the Fiscal Management and Control Board. “I don’t think we’re against the project. I think we’re just trying to get it back in line,” added Dean Mazzarella, a member of the MassDOT board and the mayor of Leominster. Sullivan, the mayor of Braintree, said the Green Line extension needs better oversight. “It needs a significant dose of tough love,” he said.