T budget deficit up

Fewer fares from disgruntled riders part of growing gap

MBTA OFFICIALS ARE eyeing a nearly 67 percent spike in the agency’s projected structural deficit, a hole caused by lower fare revenues from people avoiding what they view as the unreliable service and continued cost overruns by the agency’s paratransit service despite privatization.

Michael Abramo, the T’s chief administrator, told members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that fare collections were down more than $7 million so far this year, caused mainly by people who say in surveys they can’t rely on the service and have cut back on its use.

In addition, The Ride, the agency’s on-demand service for handicapped riders, is running nearly $13 million over budget despite a new private call center vendor that was touted as a way to streamline dispatching service and better coordinate resources.

Abramo also said the MBTA’s pension contribution increased by $10 million in June, bringing the total to more than $90 million. In addition, the T has yet to pare out $5 million in projected savings from the commuter rail service. The agency has hired former general manager Dan Grabauskas as executive director of commuter rail, who will analyze and lead the effort to implement the savings. (Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said commuter rail operator, Keolis, was responsible for the savings.)

While the T has made some gains in revenue from real estate deals and recovering money from a former parking manager for lost fees, the result is still a projected structural deficit of $50 million, up from an estimated $30.5 million for fiscal year 2018.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the red numbers will force officials to look carefully at proposals for expansion of services as well as potential pilot programs, which the T had begun soliciting ideas for last year.

“We all know that we are not going to be able to say yes to everything,” said Pollack.

The budget presentation followed a dire report on the state of The Ride, which is suffering from a high number of complaints and anemic revenues caused by people abandoning the service because cars are late, or sometimes don’t even come.

Ben Schutzman, the T’s director of director of transportation innovation, said the number of complaints about The Ride is double last year’s average during the month of October, with four complaints per thousand trips, though it is down from a high of 14 per thousand trips in June.

Schutzman said the service continues to fail in reaching the 90 percent threshold for on-time performance, continually running in the low- to mid-80 percent range. The number of trips that are 30 or more minutes late runs about 28 per thousand, far above the 19 per thousand benchmark, and the number of missed trips is eight per thousand, nearly four times the benchmark set by the T.

Schutzman said that lack of system reliability has resulted in the number of paid trip dropping by 4 percent compared to the same time last year.

“We are failing,” said board member Steve Poftak, who served as acting general manager for the agency earlier this year while the search for a permanent GM was underway.

Some of the suggestions from T officials for reining in costs for The Ride include postponing a proposed veterans transportation service until the new operators of the dispatch service improve their performance and sending out a request for proposals for new ride-sharing service proposals, such as Uber and Lyft.

A group of seniors and advocates for the disabled showed up at the board’s meeting to warn them against any thought of cutting back The Ride.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

“Any effort to cut services will be met with resistance,” said Carolyn Villers, executive director of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council. “We will not stand by and watch that happen.”