T notes: More Charles Circle disruption coming
Higher Uber, Lyft fees proposed to rein in paratransit costs
THE FIVE-YEAR RECONSTRUCTION of the Longfellow Bridge finally ended last year, and now the state is laying plans to begin rebuilding the east end of the bridge, the Charles/MGH Station, and the elevated viaduct that brings Red Line trains into the station.
The MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board approved an $8.5 million contract with Jacobs Engineering on Monday to provide architectural and engineering services on the project, which is slated to start construction 2 ½ to 3 years from now.
T officials said they expected the construction work, once it begins, will have an impact on MBTA riders and drivers in the area. Although the full impact won’t be known until the design work is completed, T officials said riders should expect limited weekend shutdowns of the station, single track operation through the construction zone at nights, lane reductions at Charles Circle, and closure of the of the entire circle on a handful of weekends.
Once the so-called Longfellow approach is completed, residents of the area may have another major construction project to look forward to – building a subway connection between the Blue Line and Red Line. The Blue-Red connector hasn’t won final approval yet, but the T is planning to start setting aside money for early design work this year. That project will likely involve tearing up Charles Street, building the subway connector, and then covering the subway line up again. The traffic impacts from that work are likely to be severe.
MBTA officials say they want to reduce the rising cost of paratransit service by hiking the fee customers pay for using ride-hailing apps and by requiring users to ride the regular subway and bus system when appropriate.
The cost of paratransit service has been a huge headache at the T, and nothing seems to have worked so far. The cost of the T’s traditional paratransit service, which revolves around contractors providing rides in T vehicles, has been rising steadily, from an average of $50.39 per trip in fiscal 2015 to an estimated $65.19 this year. The average length of a trip is about nine miles, officials said.
The T launched a pilot in 2016 with Uber and Lyft, which charged the T significantly less for ferrying customers about. But the service was so popular (users could use the app anytime they wanted rather than scheduling a pickup a day ahead of time) that any savings in cost were offset by much heavier usage.
The T now wants to curb that usage, and save $1.6 million annually, by charging a higher customer fee for using the ride-hailing apps. Currently, users pay $2 per trip, with the T picking up the rest of the cost. Under the new proposal, the fee would rise to $6, or $3 for those who share a ride. Some customers would also be limited in how many trips they could take.
The T’s other cost-saving idea is to start requiring passengers whose eligibility for the paratransit service allows them to periodically use regular subway or bus service to start doing so. The T began certifying eligibility for paratransit service five years ago, but has never enforced any of the conditions for eligibility, such as a requirement that the user ride regular subways and buses during part of the year. Now T officials think they have the software in place to begin requiring riders to abide by their conditions.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack urged T officials to do more analysis of their proposal. She worried that discouraging riders from taking Uber and Lyft might prompt them to start using the T’s standard service, which is far more costly for the transit authority.
Chelsea station contract approved
A.A. Will’s winning bid was 20 percent above what the T had estimated as the cost, but T officials accepted it anyway. The officials said the bid was higher than expected because the current construction market is “very active,” signal and electrical subcontractors are scarce, and the platform will be constructed of fiber reinforced polymer, which is more expensive but lasts longer than concrete.
FY19 MBTA budget on trackThrough three quarters of fiscal 2019, MBTA officials say the agency’s budget is on track to meet its spending and revenue targets.
The chief areas of concern were on the revenue side. The T said own-source revenue from parking, advertising, and real estate was off 20 percent from the target level of $84 million. Subway fare revenues were down $10 million from what was forecasted, but commuter rail revenue beat projections by $10 million.