MBTA ramping up hiring efforts in control center

$10,000 signing bonus attracts 30 potential applicants

MBTA GENERAL MANAGER Steve Poftak said a hiring blitz, complete with the offer of $10,000 signing bonuses, has attracted roughly 30 potential job recruits for the operations control center, where a shortage of workers has triggered a reduction in service on the Red, Orange, and Blue subway lines.

In a briefing for the T’s board of directors on Thursday, Poftak said he is also exploring whether it’s possible to rehire retirees who worked in the control center previously or use third parties to supply additional workers.

The MBTA is trying to add new workers in the operations control center in the wake of a directive from the Federal Transit Administration that said the existing staff was overworked, occasionally working 20-hour shifts.

To bring dispatching work in line with the available manpower, the T said it reduced service on the three subway lines to Saturday levels, which increased the time between trains by roughly three to five minutes. The T has said the reduced service could run through the end of the summer.

The T currently has 15 subway dispatchers and its budget for the coming fiscal year calls for a total of 22. The T wants to hire at least seven new dispatchers and possibly add some cushion to increase resiliency and decrease rogue potential for fatigue. (The T’s numbers are slightly different from the ones cited by the FTA, which said the T had 14 dispatchers and was looking to bring staffing levels up to 20.)

Poftak said the T wants to add employees and create a better overall working environment by limiting how many hours they have to work.

“We’re working hard to attract new people to the position and also make the position more attractive,” Poftak said.

The general manager went through the other FTA directives and what the T is doing to respond to them. He said the T has already recertified all employees on safety protocols and is rewriting safety procedures for handling vehicles without braking capacity in train yards to avoid runaway trains.

He said the T is also trying to figure out a way to give the engineering and maintenance team more time to make repairs to the existing subway system.

Poftak said the T is considering shutting down subway service on a portion of a line an hour early on some nights to give maintenance workers more time to do their work. Passengers affected by the shutdown would be provided with shuttle bus service.

Poftak said the T is also working to repair broken repair equipment and borrow or lease equipment from other transit agencies.

Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler asked what the T needs in the form of additional resources to comply with the FTA directives. (The Legislature is currently working on a bond bill that would provide $400 million.)

“We’re still getting our arms around what resources will be needed,” Poftak said. “We will not hesitate to ask for additional resources if we feel that’s what we need.”

Poftak said he would not hesitate to call a special meeting of the board if some action was required to deal with the FTA directives.

During the public comment section of the meeting, seven people urged the T to restore service levels on the three subway lines as soon as possible.

Jarred Johnson of the advocacy group TransitMatters also urged the MBTA board of directors to become more transparent about what’s going on behind the scenes.

“It’s really important this board be more transparent,” he said. “We really want for this board to step up and meet the moment.”