- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - A panel put together by Gov. Charlie Baker to review problems at the MBTA says that since 2009, the Boston-area transit agency has only spent about 53 percent of its planned capital budget.

A portion of the report obtained by The Associated Press acknowledges that the beleaguered Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority eventually will need more state dollars for its capital budget - typically used to pay for larger projects.

But the report said that in 2014, only $631 million of the $1.3 billion the MBTA budgeted for capital projects - about 48.5 percent - actually was spent.

The report also said the MBTA regularly uses money intended for capital projects on operating expenses. During the 2015 fiscal year, the agency will end up spending more than $66 million in capital funds on salaries, the report said.

“While the MBTA will ultimately need additional state funding for capital spending, it has been unable to spend the capital funds it already allocates, contributing to chronic underinvestment and an acute backlog in fleet, facilities, systems, and infrastructure,” the report said. That backlog in unaddressed maintenance and modernization needs has been recently estimated at $6.7 billion.

Baker asked for the in-depth examination of the MBTA after severe winter storms crippled the system.

The report also found that absenteeism among MBTA workers leads to thousands of canceled trips each year and has substantially driven up overtime costs at a time when the agency is hampered by unsustainable operating costs, weak revenue growth and the oldest fleet of vehicles of any similarly sized transit agency in the U.S.

The full report is expected to be made public later this week.

Boston Carmen’s Union President James O’Brien found fault with the report.

“Combining military service, maternity leave, earned vacation, sick time and two declared states of emergency deliberately distorts these figures and diminishes the effort of thousands of Carmen’s Union workers who got the T up and running a full month before the privately-operated commuter rail,” O’Brien said in written statement Monday.

The report, which recommends the MBTA develop a plan to substantially reduce absenteeism, also concluded:

- 30 percent of the workforce is certified to take unscheduled, intermittent family and medical leave.

- MBTA employees miss an average of 57 working days per year, including vacation days.

- the MBTA’s practice to not require overtime, instead relying on voluntary overtime, results in a shortage of workers, dropped trips and poor customer service.

The report also found the T’s operating costs are growing at an average rate of 5.25 percent a year, twice the rate of inflation.

“Operating costs at the MBTA are higher than most peer transit systems due to limited cost control, low labor productivity, and high maintenance costs,” the panel wrote.

Revenue, meanwhile, has grown at barely more than 2 percent annually over the last 15 years, according to the report, in part because major sources of revenue - including fares - are capped by law.

Baker on Monday called the report a “strong document,” but said he would wait until its full release before discussing specifics. The governor has said he would prefer to focus on operational improvements before considering new revenue like taxes or fare hikes.

The last major fare increase on the T was an average 23 percent hike imposed in 2012.

___

Associated Press writer Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide