T notes: Privatization proposal moving forward?

T notes: Privatization proposal moving forward?

Control board puts Quincy Station project on hold

DESPITE STRONG OPPOSITION from the state’s Democratic political establishment, MBTA officials hinted on Monday that they plan to bring a proposal forward to outsource work at three bus maintenance garages.

A discussion about the privatization initiative surfaced as members of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board were going over their schedule for future meetings. Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the board, said he expected the bus privatization issue to come to a head early next year. Before then, he said, he wanted MBTA staff to provide him information on a variety of subjects relevant to the decision, including how the T would oversee the contractor.

“We struggle with oversight of outsourced contracts,” Aiello said.

Brian Lang, another member of the control board, asked General Manager Luis Ramirez directly when he planned to present a proposal for privatizing bus maintenance garages in Lynn, Quincy, and Jamaica Plain.

“We’re working on a schedule right now,” Ramirez said, adding that further comment should be left for when the board went into executive session. After the meeting, Ramirez declined to comment.

Bus maintenance privatization has become a huge political issue for the Baker administration, with state lawmakers and the congressional delegation repeatedly urging T officials to abandon plans to privatize the three garages. Reps. Daniel Cullinane of Dorchester and Michael Connolly of Cambridge spoke out against privatization at Monday’s control board meeting, and were joined by representatives of a few community groups and union officials.

Michael Vartabedian, business representative for the union representing machinists at the three garages, said only one company, First Transit, has submitted a bid to operate the bus maintenance garages. T officials have refused to confirm First Transit was the only bidder.

First Transit walked away from a contract to operate the T’s paratransit service in 2012, and subsequently reached a settlement with the attorney general’s office requiring the Cincinnati-based company to pay a $7.3 million settlement.

“Given their track record, First Transit should not be a viable option unless one is driven by ideology,” Vartabedian said in a letter to the control board that he read at Monday’s meeting. “We already have the worst rail transit operation in the country in Keolis, why would you want to ruin your bus services as well?”

T board puts Quincy project on hold

The MBTA’s oversight board on Monday delayed action on a request by staff to tentatively designate a developer for a major transit-oriented development project at the site of the Quincy Center Station.

Two companies, which were identified as Quincy Center TOD Partners and JAG Northeast Development Co., bid on the project. T officials recommended the Fiscal and Management Control Board tentatively designate Quincy Center TOD Partners as the winning bidder, subject to a 180-day due diligence period during which the developer would perform a structural and financial analysis of the project and the T would have the right to cancel the project for any reason.

The presentation to the control board was confusing, but it appeared Quincy Center TOD Partners was offering $166 million in payments over the 99-year lease while JAG Northeast was offering just $6.5 million. Quincy Center TOD Partners planned construction of retail, office, housing, and parking in three phases over the next 11 years and also offered to provide $20.8 million to the MBTA in capital improvements, including a new bus terminal.

Janelle Chan, the T’s real estate manager, said the new residents at the facility would generate an estimated $750,000 in annual fare revenue for the transit authority.

Chan explained that the Quincy real estate deal was complicated by the fact that legislation passed in 1967 requires the T to obtain the approval of the Quincy mayor and city council before proceeding with any lease of the station.

Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the control board, called a halt to the deliberations, saying he wanted a lot more information before proceeding to a vote. “This is a complicated deal,” he said, adding that it might be possible for the control board to vote on the project at next Monday’s meeting.

T hires Boston tech startup

A Boston company named FairMarkIT is providing an online platform for the MBTA to put out to bid small procurements of less than $50,000.

MBTA officials said 94 percent of the transit authority’s purchase orders are less than $35,000 but they account for less than 2 percent of the total value of all purchase orders. The officials said the old system for processing those orders was cumbersome and lacked transparency, and often yielded only one or two bids.

The officials said the new online system makes it easy to attract bidders, reduces time spent on the small procurements, and allows staffers to compare bids over time. A test of the system on 550 procurements of less than $50,000 found that staff spent roughly 15 percent less time on each bid and revealed that the lowest bids on some items over the last three years were 30 percent lower than the mean bids for the same items.

“This is a huge step forward,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack.

Debris causes Red Line short

The wind blew construction debris from the Longfellow Bridge on to the electrified third rail of the Red Line last week, causing a short that prompted a two-hour delay and bus diversions between Kendall and Broadway Stations, according to Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s deputy general manager.

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Bruce Mohl

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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.

Gonneville offered few other details, but said the construction teams repairing the Longfellow Bridge had been reprimanded for the lapse and offered assurances that a similar incident would not be repeated.

Gonneville said the delay on Tuesday, November 21 was the most significant of Thanksgiving week.

  • Mhmjjj2012

    The statement that best sums up the MBTA came from Joseph Aiello: “We struggle with oversight of outsourced contracts.” And that was said while the Fiscal and Management Control Board is considering outsourcing even more contracts! You just can’t make this stuff up.

  • Joel C. Payne

    Does Amtrak have an interest in bidding again?