Another agency shares blame for MBTA safety issues

The MBTA is taking a lot of hits for its safety shortcomings, but there’s another state agency that deserves a share of the blame.

The Department of Public Utilities is the state agency tasked with overseeing and monitoring safety initiatives at the MBTA. It investigates or oversees the investigation of accidents and assists in the development and execution of so-called corrective action plans to address risky or hazardous safety situations.

Over the years, the agency, known mostly for its oversight of utilities and the licensing of drivers for Uber and Lyft, has kept a very low profile on MBTA issues. 

Transportation advocates say they can recall no instance where the DPU publicly took issue with any MBTA action.

The DPU website contains little information on the agency’s oversight of the MBTA and a spokesman for the department said no one would comment for this story. 

Elizabeth Cellucci, an official at the DPU, gave a broad overview of what the agency does to the MBTA board of directors on June 13.

Two days later, the Federal Transit Administration issued four directives to the MBTA to correct serious safety issues and added a fifth holding the DPU responsible for failing to ensure that the MBTA had policies and procedures in place to address the concerns raised in the four other directives. 

The FTA also pointed out that an FTA audit of the DPU’s safety oversight program in 2019 found 16 areas of noncompliance; only nine have been closed, leaving seven that remain unfinished business.

“The fact that those seven findings remain open gives rise to concerns regarding the DPU’s ability to effectively oversee the MBTA’s compliance with its own practices and procedures,” the FTA said in its directive. “The seven unresolved findings include procedures for addressing roadway worker protection, track maintenance, identification and analysis of hazards, investigations and root-cause analysis of accidents, and the MBTA’s development of corrective action plans.”

The FTA said the DPU has come up with a plan to address the seven findings, but questioned the long delay. “[The DPU] must exercise more robust oversight authority given MBTA’s ongoing safety events and compliance issues with its own safety procedures,” the FTA directive said. 

The FTA said the number of corrective action plans, or CAPs, dealing with safety critical issues at the MBTA has risen from four in 2019 to 12 in 2020 to 42 in 2021.

“FTA is concerned that the DPU has not effectively utilized its existing regulatory and statutory enforcement authority to ensure the timely resolution and closure of these CAPs,” the FTA said. 

BRUCE MOHL

 

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FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker says Massachusetts may encourage businesses in states that outlaw abortion to relocate to the Bay State. (Boston Globe) Meanwhile, more and more companies are pledging to help employees in states that ban abortion get to services in other states that protect the right to abortion. (New York Times)

Gov. Charlie Baker holds an event with senior groups to emphasize his tax break proposal’s positive impact on senior citizens, as he lobbies lawmakers to take it up. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Minority-owned businesses see a rise in contracts with the state. (GBH)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Auditor Suzanne Bump tours decrepit fire stations in Ashfield and Conway to illustrate the east-west divide in the inadequacy of public safety buildings. (MassLive)

Fall River uses its ARPA money to give police, fire, and maintenance workers $3,000 bonuses. (The Herald News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Northampton Veterans Affairs medical center will not close after all, after a bipartisan group of US Senators blocks passage of the VA’s restructuring plan. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The US Supreme Court rules in favor of a high school football coach who was disciplined for praying midfield after a game. (Washington Post)

California lawmakers place a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights on the state’s fall ballot. (New York Times)

Senators say they intend to disband the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission, which had called for modernizing VA medical centers around the country and the closure of three, including one in Northampton. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

ELECTIONS

Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi says Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl was already a long-shot to win the corner office, but the Supreme Court’s abortion decision and Diehl’s support of it make him unelectable in Massachusetts. 

In the GOP primary for governor, Geoff Diehl is losing the cash race but leading in the polls. (Boston Herald)

A judge strikes down a New York City law that would have allowed non-citizens to vote. (New York Times)

Attorney General Maura Healey approves a referendum petition sponsored by the MassGOP to overturn a law giving immigrants without legal status driver’s licenses, letting sponsors start collecting the signatures they need to get the question on the ballot. (Eagle-Tribune)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Since the Westover Air Force Base was downsized in the 1970s, and three industrial parks and an airport were built on the land in Chicopee and Ludlow, it has turned into a revenue-generating region, bringing in $2.2 billion annually in benefits statewide including $1.7 billion in Hampden County, according to a new study. (MassLive)

A motorcycle dealership plans to buy and rehab a historic church in Holyoke. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Offshore wind farm developers and environmentalists reach an agreement to protect North American right whales during construction and operation of the South Fork Wind offshore wind farm off the coast of New England and New York. (Gloucester Daily Times)

A new study finds unburned natural gas inside homes contains 21 toxic air pollutants. (WBUR)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Many women – and some men – report they blacked out while having drinks at bars, prompting rising concern that drugs were slipped into their beverages. (Boston Globe)

A judge strikes two questions from the new application police must fill out to become certified, one about if they have posted anything that could be perceived as biased and the other asking if they belong to any organization that has committed unlawful discrimination. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

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