T notes: Ramirez says riders don’t think MBTA cares

New website is here, plus fare and signals systems on the way

NEW MBTA GENERAL MANAGER LUIS RAMIREZ said he spent a lot of time traveling on buses and subways over the last week and came away convinced that most riders don’t think the T cares about them.

At his first meeting of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, Ramirez said he wants to change “the narrative of the MBTA” by hiring a senior customer service executive who will work across all departments to improve the customer experience for all riders.

“Nothing is further from the truth,” Ramirez said. “We care.”

New fare collection

The MBTA’s chief technology officer, David Block-Schachter, said a new fare collection system expected to come online in 2020 will provide enormous convenience for riders and give T officials a lot more information and options.

Riders will be able to pay fares by tapping Charlie Cards, contactless credit cards, and mobile devices to validators at entry points to subways, on commuter rail platforms, and inside Green Line trains and buses. The new cashless payment system will allow Green Line trains and buses to open all their doors, allowing passengers to board faster and routes to be completed more quickly. (Block-Schachter said fare payment will still need to be verified by conductors on board commuter rail trains and by inspectors on buses and Green Line trains.)

Block-Schachter said the payment system could also be used by the T’s private vendors and regional transit authorities, offering the prospect of one payment system for all modes of transportation.

Block-Schachter said the system will be capable of requiring riders to tap their payment method at validators when they board and when they leave a vehicle, allowing the T to track where riders go.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the new system will offer the T a lot of flexibility in how it designs fares. “You could set the cost of fares based on distance traveled,” she said.

No disparate treatment of minorities

MBTA officials on Monday cleared themselves of any disparate treatment of minorities, although they admitted the frequency of service on buses serving minority communities and canceled commuter rail trips on the Fairmount Line last October were close calls.

The Fiscal and Management Control Board started reviewing documents that will be submitted to the Federal Transit Authority documenting compliance with the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in any program receiving federal funds.

T officials said their review of the transit agency’s performance indicated there were no instances of discrimination, although two areas attracted concern.

On bus frequency, the T said only 59 percent of routes serving minority communities met or exceeded the system-wide standard, while the percentage in non-minority communities was 75 percent. The ratio of minority performance to non-minority performance was 79 percent, one point below the threshold for what the federal government defines as disparate treatment.

T officials noted the bus frequency calculations were based on routes. If they were based on actual passenger counts, the officials said, there would be no evidence of disparate treatment.

On the Fairmount Line, which runs from Readville through Roxbury and Dorchester into South Station, a series of train cancellations last October provided evidence of disparate treatment. Keolis, the T’s commuter rail operator, reportedly canceled many of the trains when it encountered a shortage of locomotives because passenger counts on the trips were so low.

After the cancellations came to light, the T said it implemented new policies to spread the burden of cancellations to other lines. As a result, between Nov. 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, the percent of scheduled service run on the Fairmount Line is well above the system-wide average.

New signals contract in works

Jeffrey Gonneville, the deputy general manager of the MBTA, said the agency has begun soliciting a contractor for $185 million of signal work that would increase the passenger capacity of the Red Line by 50 percent.

A signal is transit jargon for the equipment that identifies where trains are located along a track and give an operator the green light to proceed. Signals have become a major headache for the T, as breakdowns and malfunctions have forced the system to grind to a halt until the issue can be resolved.

Gonneville said the new signals system would provide incremental improvement for the Red Line as it is built but won’t be fully operational until the 2023-2024 time period.

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.

New MBTA website

The MBTA launched its new website last week. Check it out at www.mbta.com. (Don’t go to www.mbta.org, which the T’s machinists union is putting on its posters and in its ads slamming the T for attempting to privatize three bus maintenance garages.)