T notes: New fare inspectors will be civilians

Driver of derailed train suspended as operator error suspected

MBTA OFFICIALS SAY they intend to hire a team of non-police inspectors to verify that passengers on buses and Green Line trains have paid their fares once a new automated fare collection system is installed in 2021.

The new cashless fare collection system has the potential to speed up service significantly since passengers won’t be required to board through the front door under the watchful eye of the driver and will instead board at any door by tapping card readers. But T officials are worried that passengers will hop on without paying their fares under the new system, so they intend to hire inspectors who can demand riders provide proof of payment.

Many transit advocates, concerned about racial profiling, have raised concerns about MBTA police officers verifying passenger fare payments. Under current law, only MBTA police officers can issue citations for fare evasion. Citation levels are set at $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $600 for subsequent offenses.

Laurel Paget-Seekins, the T’s assistant general manager for policy, told the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that the agency intends to seek legislative approval to hire civilian fare inspectors or contract the inspections out to a private firm. The fare inspectors will be equipped with devices that can verify whether the passenger has paid the proper fare for the service they are on.

“MBTA personnel will be required to check all passengers on a vehicle to reduce discretion and bias,” the presentation to the control board said.

T officials say they don’t intend to assign inspectors to every vehicle, but instead do inspections selectively and randomly in the hopes of convincing riders not to run the risk of riding without paying.

Paget-Seekins said the T also intends to seek legislative approval for lower penalties for fare evasion. Some control board members said they would favor a warning for the first offense.

Control board members peppered Paget-Seekins with questions about the powers of the fare inspectors, with some wondering whether they would be toothless. Paget-Seekins said the inspectors would not have arrest powers. She said they could ask a fare evader for identification, but could not require the person to hand it over. She noted MBTA police officers could provide assistance to the fare inspectors if needed.

There is little fare evasion enforcement at the T currently. Paget-Seekins, acknowledging the T basically has to catch someone jumping a turnstile to issue a fine, said the T has issued between 2,000 and 4,000 fare evasion citations each year for the last four years.

The new fare inspectors will be needed primarily on buses and Green Line trains operating in areas where there are no fare gates. Fares would be checked on commuter rail and ferries by existing conductors or crew. All subway stops have fare gates.

Driver of derailed train suspended

The MBTA suspended the driver of a Green Line train that derailed Saturday morning, saying a preliminary investigation indicates the operator was at fault in the crash.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager of the T, stressed that the transit authority is still investigating, but he said the vehicle, track, and switches had been ruled out as causes of the derailment. “At this point in time, it does appear to be operator related,” he said. Gonneville declined to provide additional details.

The operator, along with 10 passengers, was injured in the derailment, which occurred as the train was  leaving Kenmore Station in the area where the track splits to go to the C and D Lines. Replacement bus service filled in for the rest of the day on Saturday after the derailment and regular service did not resume until Sunday.

All-day bus lane on Brighton Avenue

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said a new, permanent, all-day bus lane running eastbound on Brighton Avenue from Cambridge Street in Union Square to Commonwealth Avenue at Packard’s Corner will be starting up shortly.

Poftak said the new lane is expected to reduce bus travel times by 30 to 40 percent. “We are hopeful this is the next step of many in a process where dedicated bus infrastructure becomes the norm,” he said.

More T hires than departures this year

For the first time in years, the MBTA will hire more people than leave the agency through attrition.

General Manager Steve Poftak said the transit authority will be up 185 employees this year, with big gains in the capital delivery departments of the transit authority.

Poftak said the T still has a long way to go in improving its hiring process. He said the T has 96 steps it must follow to hire someone, more than double the 42 steps required at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

The T has also made a number of key hires recently, including the addition of Richard Henderson as chief real estate officer, coming over from MassDevelopment; Jennifer Tabakin as program manager for the South Coast Rail project, coming from her post as town manager of Great Barrington; and Ron Renaud, chief transformation officer, coming over from Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance. Tabakin is the second city manager hired by the T recently; David Panagore, the former town manager of Provincetown, was recently hired as chief administrative officer.

Urgency on climate change

Members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board indicated they wanted to take a more public and forceful role in rallying various state and local constituencies to address climate change.

The discussion surfaced during a presentation on the T’s climate change mitigation efforts and its energy usage. Joseph Aiello, the chair of the control board, demanded to know if a plan was in place along with the necessary funding to address the threat of flooding in the area around Aquarium Station. Told that there was no such plan, he said the T needs to be more aggressive in developing such an initiative.

Brian Lang, a control board member who feels like he has a finger in the dike, said the T needs to assume a leadership role because no one else is doing it. He said it’s not enough to just try to put up sand bags around subway stations or plug the holes that allow water to infiltrate the T’s infrastructure. He singled out the Blue Line and the Seaport District as areas particularly vulnerable to flooding.

“It’s a losing game unless there’s a much more coordinated approach,” Lang said. “It’s just not happening.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

It’s also expensive. Just to harden Blue Line to water incursions would cost between $20 million and $40 million, T officials said.

T General Manager Steve Poftak said Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo have put forward climate mitigation plans, but it might make sense for the control board to play a convening role.  “This may be a moment for the board to speak at a more strategic level,” he said.