Friday, February 22, 2008

Attleboro Sun-Chronicle's Assessment of the MBTA and MBCR (and other news updates)

It is snowing in Central Massachusetts. I hope that everyone has a good commute today. At least traffic on the roads appeared lighter - probably because it is a Friday of school vacation week with a snowstorm in the forecast.

Ted Nesi of the Attleboro Sun-Chronicle wrote a great column today about the MBTA and the MBCR. He profiles the T's former GM, retired from one T job but working in a different job. The T lets their employees retire with a full pension after 23 years. This isn't a bad gig. Maybe I should have skipped college and followed this route.

It helps explain why the transit agency is in such a terrible financial state - Michael Mulhern retired as GM in 2005 at 46 years of age. Since he had put in 23 years with the T, he started to collect a full pension - $130,000. He also accepted a job as the executive director of the MBTA Employees Retirement Fund. This job gives him a yearly salary of $225,000. Mulhern's annual compensation from the T (in both pension dollars and actual paychecks) is $350,000.

I'm not knocking Mulhern - he played by the T's rules. But something should be done to reel in the T's spending. $350,000 isn't a small amount of cash when you're $75 million in debt.

Nesi's column continued with this:
As commuters know all too well, MBCR, the private consortium that operates the suburban train lines, has hardly covered itself in glory since it took over management of the rail system in 2003. As of last fall, 30 percent of the trains were arriving late. On the Worcester/Framingham line, the problem was so acute that MBTA officials were forced to take action - not by fining MBCR but by changing the schedule, a sleight of hand that turned MBCR's tardy trains into timely ones. Last week's late is this week's on-time.

Despite all that, last December the MBTA board voted unanimously - after only 15 minutes of debate - to pay MBCR $700 million to run the trains for another three years.

There were conflicts of interest all over the boardroom. The board's chairman, Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen, had to step outside; he was an MBCR employee only a few years ago. Cohen had also worked for MBCR boss James O'Leary in the 1980s, when O'Leary was general manager of - you guessed it - the MBTA.

It looks as if the only piece of the state transit system in good working order is its revolving doors.

On top of all that, the T is loaded with debt - for every dollar the MBTA spends, 27 cents goes to pay off old debts. Some of that debt comes from the Big Dig and should never have been the MBTA's in the first place.

Nesi saved the best for last. He closed his column with this thought:

There's no good reason why the people of Massachusetts can't have a decent transit system, just as residents of other states do.

Try as they might to foist the MBTA's problems onto so-called independent agencies and private companies, Beacon Hill lawmakers bear final responsibility for the transit authority's failings - there's a reason it's called public transportation. It's past time for Gov. Patrick and the Legislature to get the MBTA back on track.
Worcester's Telegram & Gazette published an update about the Department of Corrections employee who sent MBTA GM Daniel A. Grabauskas the derogatory emails. The employee resigned yesterday. His hearing over this issue was scheduled for today. The situation occurred because the DOC employee was frustrated over the commuter rail performance issues that have plagued the Worcester-Framingham line.

While Train Stopping does not condone using inappropriate language to attack a person, we do support writing in to the MBTA, the MBCR, and local and state elected officials to express concerns related to mass transportation - specifically the commuter rail line. We also understand how frustrating it is to experience such inconsistent service on the Worcester commuter rail line.

The Gloucester Daily Times also published an editorial this morning about the MBTA. They even came up with a terrific title for the editorial: "MBTA's next project: Rebuilding trust after admitted shortcuts."

It is one thing for a public transit service, such as the MBTA, to fail to deliver on its promised schedule because of weather, equipment failure, infrastructure problems or even incompetence. It is another thing entirely to promise something it has no intention of delivering.

The editorial provided an analysis about the "hidden service costs" that have taken place over the last few years. While the editorial board does not attack Grabauskas, he doesn't exactly get a free pass either:

It is good of Grabauskas to own up to what has been going on, but he is apparently still fudging the truth, since he suggests that this was all in the past. It is not. It is still going on, although at a reduced rate.

The editorial closed with this thought:
Still, Grabauskas should have done better. It is unreasonable to expect that he could have solved a long-standing problem with staffing the moment he arrived on the scene. But he could have, very quickly, revised published schedules that were intentionally misleading.

Government leaders frequently say the public trust is important to them.

The way to gain and keep that trust is to tell the truth.

Deceit is bad. What is even worse - the Governor and the state's leaders have not stated how Grabauskas and the T will be punished for their deceit. Will they even be punished? If Grabausaks were the CEO of a private company, I'm sure shareholders would be outraged by lies and deceit. Maybe if the private company were profitable, shareholders would look the other way. But the T is in a $75 million deficit and service is consistently bad on the rapid transit, bus lines and commuter rail trains. So what gives? Will anyone be held accountable?

The MetroWest Daily News essentially ran the same article as yesterday's Worcester T&G regarding the Westborough parking lot vandalism.


Anonymous said...

As I rode home last night I pondered the possibility of bringing a 93-A consumer protection suit against the MBTA/MBCR. While it occurred to me that the statute would not afford such a remedy against a quasi-public entity, I could not help but think of this as the stench of corruption and deceit wafted through the air. As an Attorney I see the actions of the MBTA/MBCR through a lens which often directs me towards a damning view of these entities actions. I think it is quiet possible that our Attorney General Ms. Coakley should get involved. The lack of accountability that exists, while not criminal is certainly an embarrassment to our fine state. The MBTA/MBCR has paraded around far too long as the emperor with no clothes, I feel the time has come for a influential figure to emerge from the crowd and tell the state what mass transit users how known for many years.

Keith said...

Very informative post this morning. Thanks. The link for the article in the Sun-Chronicle, however, is incorrect. Try this:

Train Rider said...


Thanks for visiting. I'm not an attorney, but what you wrote sounded great by me. As a citizen, I do feel as though this is an issue that the Attorney General should become involved in. Lying and deceit are not things that a government agency should be doing.


Thanks for providing the correct link the the Sun-Chronicle.

Train Rider