T notes: The great employee exodus

Study finds barriers to disabled at many stations, bus stops

THE MBTA has a hiring problem.

Since fiscal 2015, the transit authority hasn’t been able to hire enough employees to offset the number of workers leaving the agency each year.

According to numbers presented to the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday, the T has hired 2,520 employees since 2015, but over that same time period 3,052 employees have left the agency. Fifty-six percent of the departing employees left because they were either terminated or took a job somewhere else, while the remaining 44 percent retired.

Matt St. Hilaire, the T’s chief human resources officer, said he intends to dig down into the numbers to figure out what is happening at the agency.

“Are employees leaving for more money and a better job somewhere else? Are employees not performing in their roles? Are employees not seeing opportunity and a clear path forward at the T?” St. Hilaire asked.

St. Hilaire, who assumed his post seven weeks ago, replacing an official who left the agency in the wake of former general manager Luis Ramirez’s departure, did not provide a breakdown between voluntary and involuntary departures.

The biggest imbalance occurred in fiscal 2017, when a voluntary retirement program was implemented and 348 employees were hired at the T and 746 left the agency.

The T has done much better in retaining workers this fiscal year, which ends June 30. So far, the agency has hired 476 employees and lost only 348. Of the 348, 115 retired and 233 left either voluntarily or involuntarily.

The T is under tremendous pressure to ramp up spending on capital projects, but without adequate manpower the agency may be unable to reach its goals. St. Hilaire said 77 people have been hired for capital delivery, while another 98 are being recruited. Of the 98, 52 are in the early stages and 46 are going through interviews or receiving pre-employment screening.

St. Hilaire said candidates for three jobs that have been open for some time – executive director of commuter rail, chief administrative officer, and chief information officer — have accepted job offers.

He also said the T’s management structure is very confusing. He said 271 of the 278 nonaffiliated (nonunion) management positions at the agency have different titles. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack seemed taken aback by the statistic, and asked St. Hilaire to confirm the numbers were accurate. When he confirmed the numbers, she said: “That can be tough to manage.”

Reviews finds many barriers to disabled

An exhaustive review of the MBTA system reveals that 32 commuter rail stations and 37 subway stations are inaccessible and 84 percent of the bus stops have at least one significant barrier to people with disabilities.

Laurel Brelsford, the MBTA’s assistant general manager for system-wide accessibility, said the barriers at bus stops include sidewalks that are too small and landing pads that are too narrow for a ramp. She also said many stops are located near a street crossing with no curb ramp.

Brelsford laid out a priority list for station and bus stop accessibility improvements, and said some of the work can be done in coordination with other ongoing construction work.

Subsidies for Uber, Lyft to provide more wheelchair accessible vehicles

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said he is using money from the state collects from fees on Uber and Lyft rides to subsidize a one-year pilot project with the two ride-hailing apps to increase the presence of wheelchair accessible vehicles.

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.

Poftak offered few details on the subsidies in a presentation to the Fiscal and Management Control Board, but said the goal is to improve the availability of the vehicles by a factor of four.

The T already contracts with Uber and Lyft to provide paratransit service. The service has been so popular that the savings from using Uber and Lyft has been more than offset by increased usage. The one big weakness in the program has been the scarcity of vehicles that can accommodate people in wheelchairs.