T notes: Workforce slated to grow 10.5% this year

Red Line derailment hurts commuter rail performance

THE MBTA WANTS TO INCREASE the size of its workforce by 10.5 percent this fiscal year.

In a presentation to the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, Matt St. Hilaire, the agency’s chief human resources officer, said he wants to add a total of 834 workers – a net increase of 652 once the 182 needed to offset expected employee departures are excluded. The 652 net new hires would represent an increase of 10.5 percent above the 6,198 employees working at the agency as of June 30, the last day of fiscal 2019.

The hiring goals are very ambitious, reflecting a bid by the agency to ramp up both its service levels and its ability to complete capital projects. Fiscal 2019 was the first time in the last five years that the transit agency hired more employees than it lost through attrition. The T hired 675 employees and lost 473 through attrition during the last fiscal year, for a net gain of 202. The T is hoping to do significantly better on hiring and reducing attrition this fiscal year.

The biggest employee gains are forecast in bus transportation (222), capital delivery (130), subway (87), and light rail (53).

According to St. Hilaire, the overall workforce is 51.5 percent white, 34.3 percent black, 6.8 percent Hispanic, 3.4 percent Asian, and 3.4 percent not identified. Nearly 77 percent are male and 23 percent are female.

Despite the high representation of minorities overall, the executive ranks are 66 percent white and some of smaller departments are entirely or nearly all white. Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a member of the control board, said the racial disparity at the higher levels of the agency and in some departments is “very concerning.”

Tibbits-Nutt said hiring decisions need to be reviewed more carefully. “I don’t see it getting better unless we do something a little more progressive,” she said.

Commuter rail performance slips

The on-time performance of the commuter rail system slipped badly in the wake of a June 11 derailment on the Red Line.

To help travelers in the wake of the derailment, commuter rail trains coming in from the South Shore added stops at stations in Braintree and JFK/UMass. But the increased stops bogged down service and caused delays getting into South Station, which caused trips on other lines to be delayed.

Overall, commuter rail’s on-time performance was 86.6 percent in June. It hit a low of 81.7 percent between June 11 and June 18, when the extra stops were added. On-time performance averaged 88 percent between June 19 and July 16.

South Shore trains were the most affected. On-time performance on the Middleboro line was 73.6 percent in June. It was 77.7 percent on the Kingston/Plymouth line and 78.8 percent on the Greenbush line. On-time performance on several other lines was below 90 percent — 81.6 percent on the Providence line, 83.4 percent on the Stoughton line, 84.1 percent on the Fitchburg line, 85.2 percent on rthe Franklin line , and 86.6 percent on the Worcester line.

On-time is considered arriving within 5 minutes of the scheduled time.

Rubber meets rail in Blue Line shutdown

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the Blue Line shutdown last Wednesday was caused by a rubberized noise dampener that came loose and touched the third rail, which prompted the power to shut down.

The power cut out at 7:52 a.m. between Aquarium and Government Center stations and wasn’t restored until 9:30 a.m. It took 48 minutes for the MBTA to establish bus shuttle service, and even then the service wasn’t very effective because of congestion between Maverick and Bowdoin stations.

Poftak said the incident prompted the T to revise its maintenance and inspection procedures to make sure similar problems don’t reoccur in the future.

Future commuter rail options explored

State transportation officials began reviewing commuter rail options of the future on Monday, but it was difficult to sort through the pros and cons because the analysis was full of caveats and assumptions.

At Monday’s meeting of the state’s two transportation boards, three of seven options for future commuter rail service were outlined. One option elevated service levels across the system to a train every 30 minutes at peak and every 60 minutes off-peak. The option projected the initiative would attract 19,000 new riders by 2040 and require a fairly moderate investment — $2.2 billion in 2020 dollars and an additional $122 million in operating costs.

The other two options focused on offering more frequent service to high-density areas – either Gateway Cities or stations with large parking lots. One approach used diesel locomotives to provide service every 15 minutes all day long to stations on the north side of the commuter rail system, every 30 minutes on the south side, and every 30 minutes peak and 60 minutes off-peak at all other stations. The ridership boost was projected at 36,200 by 2040 and the cost in 2020 dollars was $5.5 billion to build and $337 annually to operate. This option envisioned electrifying the Providence line and building high-level boarding platforms at stations serving the high-density areas.

The second approach envisioned electrified service across the system, an expanded South Station that would allow more trains to come and go on the south side of the commuter rail system, a Grand Junction rail link between North Station and the proposed West Station at Allston Landing, and high-level boarding platforms at stations serving high-density areas. T officials said this approach would operate between key stations at 15 minute intervals all day long and 30 minutes peak and 60 minutes off-peak at other stations. Ridership was projected to grow by 52,900 by 2040 at a cost of  $23.6 billion in 2020 dollars and $823 million a year in operating costs.

Low-income T fare pushed

Pols and transit advocates turned out in force at the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board to call for a special fare for low-income customers, those with incomes at 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

The idea of a low-income fare has been batted around many times in the past, but never seems to get anywhere because of perceived logistical problems in handing out cards and determining eligibility.

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.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a member of the control board, urged T management to bring in outside consultants to determine by the end of the year how such a fare would work. Joseph Aiello, the chair of the board, said the study needs to focus on implementation, not feasibility. He also said it needs to review how similar fares have worked in other cities. “New York has really struggled with its program,” he said.

Tibbits-Nutt assured those who attended Monday’s meeting that their concerns are not falling on deaf ears. “You are being heard and you are being seen,” she said.