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. 




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