T notes: Cautionary tale on the Green Line
Corporate sales, budget relief, assaults on T workers
THE GREEN LINE’S C and D LINES have been running with delays since January 18 because of a power outage traced by MBTA employees to hard-to-reach cables and conduits that date to the 1930s and 1940s.
Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s deputy general manager, said the power outage first occurred on Thursday, January 18, at 5:10 a.m. He said the outage was traced to the general area where the C and D lines come together – an area the T calls Beacon Junction – but the precise location wasn’t pinpointed. Bus shuttles were deployed initially to bridge the gap for passengers.
By Friday, officials thought they had isolated the problem to one of three substations. They shut one down and tried to offer service using the other two, but service was plagued by repeated shutdowns that Gonneville likened to tripped breaker switches that shut off power when circuits are overloaded. By Monday morning, Gonneville said, the T tried to provide service using fewer trains, but delays mounted. Delays continued throughout last week as the T tried to isolate and repair the defective cables, which still hadn’t been fixed as of Monday.
Gonneville said the Green Line problem is an issue that could surface again. “We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of miles of cable on the Green Line that need to be looked at,” Gonneville said.
Despite strong job growth in Greater Boston, MBTA pass sales to employees through their employers have been static for years and could take a hit with federal tax law changes that limit corporate tax deductions for transportation fringe benefits.
In a memo to the Fiscal and Management Control Board, MBTA staff said the new tax law offers an opportunity to reset the transit authority’s relationship with the business community. The memo recommended a number of policy changes and new marketing efforts to boost sales.
The policy changes included changing state law to boost the state transit tax deduction from $130 to $250 a month, the same level enjoyed by those who receive employer-provided parking benefits. The memo also suggested employers should be required to reduce single-occupancy vehicle commuter trips, which could spur businesses to offer their employees T passes.
Internally, the T has hired a deputy director for fare products and is working on developing a brand identity for the corporate program that would be accompanied by advertising, a dedicated website, and more customer outreach.
T getting some FY19 budget help
The MBTA is likely to receive some budget relief in fiscal 2019.
First off, the state’s funding formula for the T should yield $1.032 billion, about $25 million more than the transit agency received last year.
The Legislature several years ago ordered a halt to the use of capital funds to pay employees. The practice allowed the T and other state transportation agencies to keep operating budgets low while paying workers using capital funds – money that in most cases was borrowed and carried interest payments.
Michael Abramo, the transit authority’s chief administrator, said two groups of MBTA employees have been moved from the capital to the operating budget, but he said a third group shouldn’t be moved because accounting rules allow them to be retained on the capital budget. He said the group includes employees working on projects creating a new asset (the makeover of Wollaston Station, for example) or extending the life of an existing asset.
Assaults on T employees
Roughly 70 to 80 MBTA employees are verbally or physically assaulted every three months, according to data released Monday.Ron Nickles, the T’s chief safety officer, said bus operators bear the brunt of the attacks. Officials said one-third of the T’s buses now have doors that can shut the driver off from passengers and preparations are being made to install the doors in the remaining buses.
Nickles had no data on whether assaults have declined with the new doors, but he said operators who have experienced problems want them. “Everyone that’s been attacked loves them,” he said.