Riders say odor is T’s biggest cleanliness problem

Agency revamping contracting, oversight to address issues

TAKING THEIR CUE from Massport, MBTA officials say they are revamping the way they contract for cleaning services to address the chief concerns of riders.

It’s not the grime. It’s not the dirt buildup. It’s the odor and the litter,” said Joe Cheever, the
T’s senior director of engineering and maintenance.

In-station polling data indicate 34 percent of MBTA riders say odor is the cleanliness issue that bothers them the most, followed by litter at 21 percent,” Cheever told the Fiscal and Management Control Board. Not surprisingly, the areas of most concern to riders are elevators and station platforms.

Cheever said the T brought in an industry expert as a consultant who said the existing cleaning contractors are not using proper equipment. As a result, Cheever said, there is a problem with odor, grime, and dinginess.

Cheever said the T’s current cleaning contracts are task oriented, meaning the contractors are told how many employees they should hire, what those employees should do, and how often they should do it. He said the T wants to move to a performance-based system, where the contractor is held to certain standards and is rewarded or penalized for meeting or failing to meet those standards. Cheever said Massport uses a similar system to clean Logan International Airport.

The plan calls for hiring a third-party firm to audit the quality of work being done and for expanding the number of MBTA employees who oversee the work. Under the plan, the MBTA oversight staff would be increased from 8 to 12, with agency officials tasked with making sure that in-station repairs (leaks, cracked tiles, etc.) are completed so cleaning work can be done efficiently.

Cheever said MBTA personnel will need to go through classroom training this summer to prepare for the new oversight approach.

The T plans to send out a request for proposals this month and have new contractors in place in December. Contractors will be required to have at least 65 percent of their employees working full-time. A baseline for station cleanliness will be developed in the first six months of the contract and after that contractors will be measured on how they do against that baseline.

The new contracting process is coming as the T is starting to invest in cleaning up and brightening stations and hiring contractors to do ongoing repair work. T officials said 34 stations were targeted during the first week, which started April 1. Work included power washing and scrubbing floors and walls, painting, repairing cracks, and removing litter, salt, and litter.

Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the control board, asked T officials if the agency might eventually adopt mechanisms adopted by many municipalities allowing the public to identify problems (potholes, for example) and monitor dashboards tracking how quickly the problems are addressed.

“We would very quickly be overcome with the number of requests coming in,” said Jeffrey Gonneville, the MBTA’s deputy general manager.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and other T officials quickly interjected that the transit authority is fine-turning internal mechanisms to track issues and how quickly they are addressed, but lacks the capacity to go public now.

“We do aspire to a 311 system,” said Gonneville, referring to the system Boston residents can use to notify city officials about potholes or missed garbage pickups.

Cheever said the T ultimately hopes to have its stations as clean as Logan Airport’s terminals, even though he acknowledged the spread-out nature of the MBTA system will make that difficult. “This is going to be a multi-year journey to get to that point,” he said.