T notes: South Shore customers want later trains
MBTA GM wants less jargon in messages to customers
MBTA ADVISORY BOARD Executive Director Paul Regan thought he had given the MBTA everything needed to change up schedules of commuter rail trains to make them useful to South Shore riders spending a night on the town.
“It’s the only area of the commuter rail service that doesn’t have service after 11 o’clock,” Regan told the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, reporting that the idea of later train departures from South Station has unanimous support among city and town officials in the area.
T officials contended the schedule change would cost $150,000 to $200,000, according to Regan, who claimed those expenditures could be covered by only a slight increase in ridership. T officials have also treated the request like a pilot program idea, which could entail more regulatory hurdles, rather than a simple schedule change.
In his comments to the board on Monday, Regan made it clear that proponents will be perturbed by the agency’s response to the proposal.
After the meeting, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said he would meet with Regan and other supporters about the idea to find out whether either side made a mistake in evaluating the proposal.
“Our internal analysis showed there was an additional cost,” Poftak said.
Control Board Chairman Joseph Aiello asked to take the issue up at a future meeting.
Poftak takes on jargon
In addition to plans for increased capital spending, Poftak wants to do a better job telling the public why construction projects are underway in language that will convey their importance.
“It is important to explain the utility of projects to customers in plain language that is meaningful to them,” Poftak told the control board. “We really need to be communicating in a way the customer understands.”
A clean air project in Back Bay Station is a case study for how jargon can obscure the reason for a project.
The MBTA has received the first of five battery-powered buses, which will go into service on the Silver Line, Poftak announced.
The first of their kind on the system, the 60-foot electric buses will give the T insight into how they work, how useful they are, and how to maintain them.
The purchase was funded with a grant from the Federal Transit Administration, Poftak said.
Fare evasion discussion
The unexplained delay in rolling out a new system of fare collection throughout the MBTA will give advocates and the public more time to weigh in on what that should look like, and one member of the control board thinks changes should be made to how fare evasion is enforced.
The T is negotiating a new schedule with Cubic, the vendor hired to outfit the transit system with more convenient payment methods.
“I don’t have concrete details on what that schedule looks like now but I assure you both parties are working towards it,” Poftak said. “We do have some major policy issues to still work through, and this does actually give us some time to engage in those conversations.”
The delay was reported earlier by the Boston Globe after comments the company’s CEO, Bradley Feldmann, made in a conversation with analysts on May 2. Regarding the project in Boston, he said, “We’ve delivered the preliminary design documentation. We’ll probably adjust some of the milestones. We’re in conversations with the customer now, but the project will do well and we’re excited about the progress we’ve made there.”
MBTA control board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt said when evaluating fare policy one item to consider is the hefty fines that people owe for sneaking onto the T without paying.
State law calls for non-criminal citations and fines that go from $100 for a first offense to $600 for a third or subsequent offense.
Advocates are worried how enforcement will work when the new system is in place and are also concerned about how the fines would affect particular demographics, Tibbits-Nutt said after the meeting.
“They’re really, really worried about continuing to disproportionately burden youth of color especially when you’re talking about these fines, because they go to the RMV. This becomes an actual criminal case if you don’t pay them,” said Tibbits-Nutt.
When only one vendor, the incumbent Boston Harbor Cruises, bid to run the MBTA’s ferry service contract last year, the new arrangement dramatically increased costs for the transit agency.
On Monday, Jeff Cook, who is now the T’s chief procurement officer, explained some of the reasons for the lack of competition and the “spike up in cost” that will lead to about 4-5 percent increases every year beyond fiscal 2020 for the remainder of the contract.
The incumbent vendor owns many of the boats used for the service. When T bought its own boats they cost about $5.8 million apiece so they are significant investments, according to Cook, who said the T should cultivate relationships with other ferry operators to foster competition that could bring down prices.“We have the opportunity to ask more of these questions by thinking farther in advance, because if the T wanted to own more boats and then ask an operator to operate them, or if we want an operator to buy more boats dedicated to the T, [those are] completely different procurements,” Pollack said after the meeting.
Boston Harbor Cruises is not the only ferry operator around. Wynn Resorts, which plans to open a casino at the mouth of the Mystic River, near where it meets the Inner Harbor, has plans to offer a ferry or water taxi service. The casino company has hired Boston Boat Works to build the vessels, which will be operated by Bay State Cruises, according to Michael Weaver, a spokesman for Wynn who said the company will announce more details about the service soon.