Crunching the T’s numbers

In early April, the Boston Globe splashed a report across its front page about excessive absenteeism at the MBTA. Citing pages in a soon-to-be-released report from an advisory panel appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker, the Globe reported that T workers are off the job an average of 57 days a year and their overall absence rate of 11 to 12 percent is twice the level found at peer agencies around the country.

On Tuesday, the Globe began walking back its earlier story. The newspaper’s front-page report questioned the relevance of the 57 days-off number and said the peer group comparison was misleading. The story quotes Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, which represents cities and towns served by the T. Regan said the Baker advisory panel’s report raised a number of serious issues facing the T but tended to overstate each of them.

Questions about the absenteeism numbers were first raised in late April by MassINC pollster Steve Koczela in an article for CommonWealth magazine (which the Globe refers to as an unnamed blog). When state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack insisted at a public event that the numbers were accurate, CommonWealth responded with an article pointing out that she was wrong.

The problem for the Baker administration is that no one has ever publicly explained how the numbers were derived. It’s a problem because even within the administration there are disputes about which numbers are the best to use.

The 57 days-off number includes vacation days, holidays, training days, and a host of other scheduled days off. The scheduled days-off are a challenge for the agency, but unscheduled days-off are the real problem. When someone calls in sick or takes a leave at the last minute, that’s when the agency has to scramble to cover bus routes and other services.

After the release of the Baker advisory panel’s report, state transportation officials released data showing the average T worker takes 22.5 unscheduled days off a year. That’s more than four work weeks a year. It’s also the number that should have been highlighted in the report.

The 11-12 percent absence rate cited in the advisory panel’s report was also never fully explained. State transportation officials said it was calculated by dividing 22.5 by 204, with 204 derived by subtracting 57 (total days-off) from 261 (total work days in a year). Koczela, in his article, suggested the 204 number was inaccurate and misleading.

The T advisory panel, in a letter to CommonWealth, also said the 204 number cited by state transportation officials was incorrect. The members of the advisory panel said they used 230. To reach the 11-12 percent figure, the advisory panel members divided 26 (their number for unscheduled days-off) by 230. Baker administration officials later revised downward the unscheduled days-off number from 26 to 22.5.

The numbers get confusing, but the bottom line is that the Baker administration should set the record straight on which numbers are being used and why. The T is grappling with a host of problems, but they can only be addressed if they are stated clearly.




The state considers fingerprinting welfare recipients to prevent fraud. (Gloucester Times)

Senate President Stan Rosenberg is “absolutely right and absolutely wrong” about the MBTA. (Brockton Enterprise)


Federally-facilitated community discussions about race in Worcester begin with about 100 people attending the first meeting. (Telegram & Gazette)

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera is proposing to cover winter snow removal costs and school repairs with the city’s reserves. (Eagle-Tribune)

Boston pledges $39 million toward affordable housing projects in the city. (Boston Globe)

Panhandling is a rising concern in Fall River. (Herald News)

Danvers Town Meeting bucks a trend, refusing to remove the police chief’s job from Civil Service. (Salem News)


Testifying before a Boston City Council hearing, a US Olympic Committee official says there is “no guarantee” that Boston will be the committee’s final choice submitted to the International Olympic Committee. (Boston Globe) Los Angeles officials say they’re all too happy to jump and accommodate a switch in the US bid to the City of Angels. (Boston Herald)


US District Court Judge George O’Toole is expected to set a date for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s formal sentencing to the death penalty at a status hearing today. (Boston Herald)


US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy rejects a bid by conservative advocacy groups to shield the names of their donors from California officials. (Governing)

The New Hampshire Supreme Court strikes down a state law requiring all voters be residents of the state. (Governing)


What does the left wing of the Democratic Party want? (Christian Science Monitor)


The president of the Pawtucket Red Sox, James Skeffington, died unexpectedly while jogging near his Rhode Island home on Sunday night. (Boston Globe)


The Stone Zoo is at risk of losing its accreditation because of poor maintenance and inadequate funding. (Boston Globe)


School leaders in Salem scrap together enough money to avoid most of the layoffs that were predicted just weeks ago. (Salem News)


In the wake of the opioid crisis in Massachusetts, more and more grandparents are taking over parenting duties for their children. (WBUR) CommonWealth reported on the rising number of grandparents taking care of their grandchildren last November.


House transportation committee chairman William Straus says eliminating the MBTA as a stand-alone authority should be considered. (CommonWealth)

A Globe editorial says state senators representing Boston should get behind the Baker administration’s T reform proposal, and chides four of them — Anthony Petruccelli, Sonia Chang-Diaz, Sal DiDomenico, and Michael Rush — for not even being willing to say where they stand on the plan.


Rep. Ted Speliotis of Danvers is coordinating efforts to block the proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline. (Salem News)


Jury selection begins in the trial of Edwin Alemany, accused of the 2013 murder of Amy Lord. (Boston Globe)


Can the Boston Phoenix’s digital archives be saved? (Columbia Journalism Review)