T notes: Board acts as if Ramirez never existed
Early morning bus pilot made permanent; weekend commuter rail fare in limbo
THE MBTA’S FISCAL AND MANAGEMENT Control Board acted as if former general manager Luis Ramírez never existed at its meeting on Monday, failing to even acknowledge his exit last week let alone discuss why he was no longer suitable for the post after just 15 months on the job.
There was the occasional reference at the meeting to Deputy General Manager Jeffrey Gonneville filling in as general manager until Steven Poftak, who is currently a member of the control board, takes over as GM in January. But there was no mention of Ramírez by the board and no discussion of why Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Gov. Charlie Baker felt he was no longer the person for the job.
In fact, there was no discussion of Ramírez’s departure at all, which is strange for a board that is charged with oversight of the T.
The control board also didn’t mention Ramirez in its fourth annual report, which was approved at Monday’s meeting. The annual report said the control board was frustrated “over the pace of change and the often disappointing customer experience,” but said the authority was making “real and meaningful” progress.
In last year’s annual report, Ramirez was mentioned three times, each time in fairly glowing terms. “This board supports GM Ramírez’s call to make capital delivery, improving human capital, customer service, and safety top priorities across the Authority,” the third annual report said.
$10 weekend commuter fare remains in limbo
MBTA officials told the control board on Monday that they need more time to assess their options for quickly extending the special $10 weekend ride-as-much-as-you-want commuter rail fare.
Members of the control board got upset last week when they learned that the discounted fare had been successful in boosting ridership and MBTA revenue but would have to be discontinued for at least a month while the T conducts an equity analysis of its impact. In response to the control board’s anger, T officials said they would assess the options for resuming the special fare faster and get back to the board Monday so only one weekend would go by without the $10 fare in place.
Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s deputy general manager, said on Monday the transit authority had reached out to officials at the Federal Transit Authority for guidance but still needed more time to assess next steps.
The T launched the special $10 weekend fare on June 9 in a bid to see if people could be incentivized to use nearly empty commuter rail trains on weekends for trips into Boston or out to the suburbs, rural areas, and beaches. Results showed that 180,000 weekend passes were sold over the six-month period, or an average of 7,200 per weekend. Commuter rail revenue overall was up 4.6 percent, or about $350,000, in 2018 versus the same period in 2017 despite the lower fare.
T officials say any fare change extending beyond six months becomes permanent and the Federal Transit Authority requires an equity analysis to determine whether it is fair to all riders.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the purpose of an equity analysis is to make sure “disadvantaged populations” are not denied benefits and “advantaged populations” don’t receive excessive benefits. “So we have to design an equity analysis that addresses those issues and one of the reasons it was not possible for staff to have the equity analysis done by the end of the pilot, which was what the board was unhappy about last time, is it’s not actually obvious exactly how to conduct the equity analysis for this particular fare pilot. And that’s what staff is working on right now,” Pollack said.
James Aloisi, a former secretary of transportation, said the T board should just make the fare change permanent and conduct the equity analysis as quickly as possible to determine if any remediation is necessary. “It’s a success,” Aloisi said of the pilot. “Of course it should be permanent.”
Early morning bus pilot made permanent
The Fiscal and Management Control Board voted on Monday to make a pilot project offering early morning service on 10 busy bus routes permanent.
By adding additional early morning service, the pilot, which launched April 1, helped reduce crowding on what had been the previous first bus trip of the day. According to a T analysis, the net cost of the pilot was $520,000 and the early morning buses over eight months attracted 1,791 riders, of which 907 were new.
The operating subsidy per trip was $1.46, less than the $1.62 operating subsidy per trip for the entire weekday early morning time period. The demographics of users of the early morning bus trips were heavily low income and minority, according to the T analysis. The pilot was so successful that the T wants to add additional early morning trips to five routes at a cost of $50,000.
FMCB vacancy to be filled quickly
Several members of the public urged Gov. Charlie Baker to appoint a T rider and/or someone of color to replace Steven Poftak on the Fiscal and Management Control Board.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she would convey the concerns to Baker, who is expected to appoint a replacement to the board in time for its next meeting on January 7. Poftak is leaving to become general manager of the T.Will Justice of the T Riders Union, an African-American from Roxbury, said he looks at the control board and sees no one like him. “We need to have some sort of voice up here,” he said.
Mela Bush-Miles, the chair of the Fairmount/Indigo Transit Coalition, said there needs to be someone who represents the community of riders.