T notes: Control board calls for fewer meetings
New Orange Line cars returning to service
THE MBTA’s FISCAL AND MANAGEMENT CONTROL BOARD on Monday tweaked its recommendation for the makeup of a new T oversight board once the existing panel goes out of existence at the end of June.
In its annual report, the control board adopted two recommendations put forward by an outside panel brought in to review safety procedures at the MBTA. The safety panel said the control board meets too often, sucking up time managers need to run the agency, and lacks a member with a background in transit operations and safety.
The control board recommended its replacement meet 15 times a year rather than the 36 required under current law and include a member with an operations and safety background. The board previously recommended that the board include the secretary of transportation.
Gov. Charlie Baker has vowed to file legislation this month authorizing the creation of a new MBTA oversight board, and he, too, has said the bill would require fewer meetings and a member with operational and safety experience.
“We quickly began to understand that enormous physical and psychological disrepair and management inertia had set in,” the board said of its first months in existence. “The causes of the disrepair were many but likely driven by long-term neglect, long-term/repeated turnover in General Managers, and lack of a common vision within the organization. We cannot stress enough what a challenging environment we found. Indicators of these serious challenges were unreliable service, a dispirited workforce, lack of sufficient management capacity, lack of clear expectations on safety and customer service, and a dismal approach to financial discipline. Today, the MBTA is on a stable course and seeing improvement every day. However, the road to achieving the MBTA’s vision for its future will be a long one.”
The annual report also said the T is having a tough time hiring qualified people. “The battle for talent and retention is real—and is a real barrier toward success,” the report said. “While the FMCB has seen the introduction of new training and certification programs and has had some success with senior management recruitment, these accomplishments have been meager compared to the challenge. Out-of-date recruitment, compensation, and professional development packages represent an urgent situation at the T that must be addressed.”
Despite calling for fewer meetings, the board said the transparency fostered by a board hearing regularly from the public is important. “Transparency, listening, and dialogue create value,” the report said. “One cultural breakthrough the FMCB has observed is the evolution of staff’s relationships with stakeholders from wariness to effective collaboration in identifying and solving problems. Our metropolitan region benefits from a richness of individuals and organizations from all walks of life and philosophies. We have watched the staff grow in their respect for and appreciation of what the community we serve has to offer.”
Timetable for new Orange Line cars
MBTA Deputy General Manager Jeffrey Gonneville said one six-car set of new Orange Line cars returned to service last week and another is scheduled to resume on Friday. He said a third set is expected to start service in late February.
The new Orange Line cars were withdrawn from service due to a troubling noise. A T investigation discovered that the pads between the cars and the wheel assembly of the vehicles were wearing out prematurely, a problem that has now apparently been fixed.
Prone calls for off-peak commuter rail improvements
Prone said two New York City railroads offer discounts of 25 percent on off-peak trains, which was defined as any train arriving Manhattan between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and leaving between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.Prone said the T should also consider offering more off-peak train trips, particular on weekends. He said many would-be customers choose to drive into Boston rather than take the train because of gaps between trains lasting from one to three hours.
“These gaps can be filled immediately, especially on weekends when extra trainsets sit idled in layover facilities across the system,” he said.