Transportation notes: Rocky rollout at inspection stations

Deveney said focus should have been on people, not equipment

STATE OFFICIALS ON MONDAY conceded that a new system for handing out automobile inspection stickers got off to a dismal start at the beginning of October because of a failure to provide enough technical support to the roughly 1,700 stations participating in the program.

“While we provided the technology to the stations, they deserved a greater degree of support,” said Erin Deveney, who oversees the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Station owners seeking to provide automobile inspections were required to purchase $8,000 of new equipment, including a workstation, software, and cameras. They were also given training on how to operate the equipment, but Deveney said the help wasn’t enough to allow station owners to get their equipment up and running properly.

Only 531 of the state’s roughly 1,700 inspection stations were running on October 2, and the hotline set up to handle questions from operators received more than 5,000 calls that day. Deveney said the call center was “overwhelmed.” Many drivers, who pay $35 for an inspection sticker, had trouble finding an operating station that day.

Deveney’s presentation to the Department of Transportation board said the rollout failed because “the priority was the new equipment, more so than the people who would use that equipment. There was only one orientation session required for each inspector and each instructor was provided just a booklet on the new process.  There was no hands-on training.”

After the problems surfaced, Registry officials and employees of Applus Technologies, the vendor that won the $29 million contract to launch the new system, began working directly with the inspection stations. The number of call center workers was also doubled. As a result, the number of operating inspection stations increased fairly rapidly, rising from 531 on October 2 to 1,340 by October 6 and 1,715 by October 13. There are a total of 1,762 inspection stations in Massachusetts.

“There are still continuing issues we are working to resolve,” Deveney said, but added that the number of inspection stations and inspections is back to the level it was at at this time last year.

In her presentation to the MassDOT board on September 11 prior to the Applus launch, Deveney said the company had never missed an implementation date. “Their experience and agility to adapt to any situation has allowed them a perfect history hitting program start-up dates,” said the presentation.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the program seems to be back on track. “I’m satisfied with where we are now, but I wish we were here two weeks ago,” she said.

Control board meetings going live

This coming Monday’s meeting of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board is expected to be livestreamed over the internet and available later for viewing.

Owen Kane, the T’s legal counsel, said Valley Communications, the company that installed $175,000 of video and audio equipment in the Department of Transportation’s conference room, will handle the initial work under a contract worth $33,000.

“Barring something unforeseen, we will have the system completely operational,” he said.

Kane said he didn’t know the long-term cost of providing live and recorded coverage of the control board’s meetings. At an earlier meeting on October 2, he estimated the cost at between $3,000 to $4,000 a meeting, or between $105,000 and $160,000 a year. The control board decided to proceed but at a cost of no more than $100,000.

Kane said details on how to watch the livestream will be available on the MBTA’s website when the agenda for Monday’s meeting is released.

More problems at the RIDE?

An official from the Teamsters Union said on Monday that drivers for the RIDE, the MBTA’s paratransit service, are being asked to work unusually long work weeks that endanger public safety.

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.

Testifying before the Fiscal and Management Control Board, Michael Halley of the Teamsters said many  of the drivers are being asked to work long days and as many as 59 hours a week. He said many of the drivers, who are hired by National Express Transit, are refusing to bid on jobs. One of the drivers, a single mother, told the control board she is being asked to work from 9:45 a.m. until 11 p.m. on some days.

MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez said he has asked his staff to investigate. “This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said.