T board briefed on parking ‘discrepancies’

Size of problem remains mystery as audit specialist hired

A correction has been added to this story.

MBTA OFFICIALS on Monday briefed the agency’s oversight board for the first time about “parking revenue discrepancies” that first surfaced in late February or early March and remain something of a mystery.

The authority’s legal counsel, John Englander, told the Fiscal Management and Control Board that the T’s parking lot operator, LAZ Parking Limited, would be responsible for reimbursing the authority for twice the amount of any discrepancies, plus any applicable fines. Asked after the meeting about the size of the parking revenue discrepancies, Englander said: “We’re still working on that… It wasn’t huge dollars.”

The discrepancies emerged when MBTA officials compared daily revenue reports at the agency’s parking lots with actual physical vehicle counts conducted by T staff at the lots. On March 7, the T asked its LAZ officials for an accounting. In early April, the T said the company had reported back that it had “taken appropriate action” and was improving its auditing, cash handling, and revenue recording and reporting procedures.

“The incident is limited to North Quincy Station, and does not involve any additional station parking operations,” the T said in a statement.

That statement turned out to be incorrect. CommonWealth subsequently reported that the T, dissatisfied with LAZ’s investigation, had called in the Transit Police and a state audit team to explore revenue discrepancies at three T parking lots – North Quincy, Lechmere, and Riverside. CommonWealth also reported that LAZ had fired an employee.

Englander told the T oversight board on Monday that the agency has now determined there was no revenue loss at Riverside. He said LAZ has terminated two employees “for not following proper procedures” and he added that Peter Dane, a parking audit specialist, had been retained by the MBTA.

The update on the parking revenue discrepancies came during a presentation on ways the MBTA could better manage and maximize parking revenues, which have hovered between $41.7 million and $43.1 million over the past three years. Revenues are forecast to be $42 million this fiscal year, rising to $43.5 million in fiscal 2017. After deducting expenses and bond payments, the MBTA’s net parking revenue has gone as low as $9.9 million in fiscal 2015 and as high as $17 million in fiscal 2013. The forecast is for net revenue of $17.4 million this fiscal year and $18.3 million in fiscal 2017.

According to Bryan Gubbins, director of real estate for the state Department of Transportation, 140 parking facilities are connected with the T – 100 of them owned and controlled by the transit authority, 8 partially controlled by the authority, and 32 owned and operated by cities and towns or third parties.

LAZ operates the 100 T-owned parking facilities under a $9.1 million-a-year contract that runs through Jan. 1, 2018. Of the 100 facilities, Gubbins said, 47 are operating at greater than 85 percent of capacity, meaning they are effectively full. He said 27 are operating between 60 percent and 85 percent of capacity, which he described as within the target range of an efficient operation. The remaining 26 facilities are operating below 60 percent capacity, which he said means they are underutilized.

Underutilized lots include Beachmont and Suffolk Downs on the Blue Line, Mattapan on the Red Line, and the Hingham Shipyard and Hull/Pemberton Point lots serving the ferries. Along commuter rail lines, there were many underutilized lots north of Boston, several south of the city, and relatively few west of the city.

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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.

Gubbins said the T faces an estimated $150 million in short-term capital investments over the next five years to keep existing parking facilities safe. Some garages are much closer to paying their own way than others. For example, the Alewife Garage has brought in $4.3 million in gross revenue so far this year and needs $8 million in investments. By contrast, the Lynn Garage needs $46 million in upgrades yet has generated just $284,000 in gross revenue so far this year.

Gubbins said the garages at Braintree, Quincy Adams, and Quincy Center (which was shut down in July 2012 because of structural and safety concerns) require $86 million in investments even though they have generated $5.7 million in revenue so far this fiscal year.

(Corrections were made in the last two paragrapsh to make clear the gross revenue was year-to-date revenue and not revenue for an entire year.)