Friday, October 31, 2008

Giving it All Away

Raise your hand if you have ever been on a MBTA bus, subway/trolley train, commuter rail train, or commuter boat and seen drivers or conductors not collect fares? Most of us have seen this happen. Heck, some of us have probably even benefited and received a free ride here and there. But this is a trend that shouldn't be occurring in a system that is as deficit plagued as the T.

Thankfully, WCVB-TV/Channel 5 had the gumption to see if this "rumor" was a reality. Last night, they aired a special report about how the T, rather MBTA employees, do not collect fares.

Reporters on Channel 5's "Team 5 Investigates" staff spent six days riding buses and trains with an undercover camera. They found that getting a free ride really wasn't all that unusual. MBTA drivers on buses and above ground Green line trolleys frequently waved passengers on without collecting their fares. Passengers didn't have to pay or prove they had either a Charlie Card or a monthly commuter pass.
One third of the MBTA's revenue comes from fares. One half comes from a portion of the state sales tax. With the MBTA now over $8 billion in debt, and fare hikes looming, employees were observed letting revenue slip away.
This is why Train Rider and frequent readers of Train Stopping get outraged when their commuter rail passes are not checked on the MBTA/MBCR commuter rail lines. And this is also why suburban commuters are livid that they'll be paying 100% more to park, come November 15th.

Channel 5 didn't just shoot the footage for shock value. They actually took it to Beacon Hill to share with the Senate Transportation Committee.
"A video speaks a thousand words. This is pretty clear," said Sen. Steven Baddour. "In today's climate, every penny counts. We are looking at serious reforms and cuts, and here's an opportunity where people can do a better job."
They even tried to show it to MBTA General Manager Dan Grabauskas. Danny-boy wouldn't watch the footage (how come Dan - does the truth hurt), but no surprise here, the spotlight-loving GM did agree to be interviewed.
Team 5: "Your agency is $8 billion in debt. Wouldn't every fare count?"
Graubauskas: "Every fare does count."
Team 5: "So why aren't they collected?"
Graubauskas: "The fact of the matter is that bus drivers, operators, trolley operators know that part of their job is to make sure that everyone pays. It shouldn't be somebody who is just deciding to shirk their responsibilities. If they are working for the T, they've got to make sure to collect fares."
So why aren't the fares collected? Who is to blame? If you guessed the passengers/commuters you are right. Yes - the T needs to stay on schedule, so fares can't always be collected.
It the T had a dollar for every excuse they give in terms of poor service, poorly kept trains/buses, etc., etc., they probably wouldn't in a budget deficit.
Transportation advocate Eric Bourassa said there's also pressure on operators to stay on schedule. "A person who is monitoring the line by GPS can call the bus driver and tell them that they are behind schedule," said Bourassa. "They know they should get people on as fast as they can and move to the next station."

Team 5 Investigates asked Graubauskas if drivers felt pressure to keep on schedule.

"Well, certainly we have to maintain a schedule, but that's no excuse for not paying," said Grabauskas.
Check it out - Grabauskas actually uttered the phrase "no excuse!"
Drivers on the Green line are supposed to make announcements when the trains are crowded, asking passengers to come forward and pay their fare. But during our observations, no announcements were made about fare collection.

The MBTA said it ticketed 650 passengers this year for fare evasion. But those were passengers, not employees. After Team 5 Investigates told Graubauskas about drivers failing to collect, he said he may take disciplinary action.

"They'll be brought in to see if in fact they weren't doing the job, " he said . "There will be progressive discipline. If we need to get back out there and do self enforcement, then we will do that."
So part of the reason the T's budget deficit is so severe is because they have to provide backpay to union employees. I believe most of the drives/trolley drivers are union employees. If you are owed money, why wouldn't you try to make sure the company you work for collects all the money they are supposed to collect? What if the lack of fare collections had to actually be taken out of employee paychecks?

This is utterly unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable. Most of us work in a world where, if we don't do what is in our job description, we lose our jobs. Case closed. Boy, would I like to work in a world where I can pick and choose what I want to do and then get regular pay increases whether or not I'm performing up to par.

Thank you Channel 5 for this report.


Anonymous said...

"Drivers on the Green line are supposed to make announcements when the trains are crowded, asking passengers to come forward and pay their fare"

Did these people actually ride an above ground Green line trolley at rush hour? It is impossible to move to the front to pay a fare.

They should have people manning the platforms to monitor people as they enter the doors or as they do sometimes use the hand held card readers.

Anonymous said...

It's no different at any other transit agency in America.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous #2: Not in New York. Good luck trying to beat the fare on the subway or bus because you WILL (yes WILL) get nailed. The MTA takes their fare collecting very seriously. When I first moved here, I thought (and still do) the MBTA's fare collection was a joke, especially on the commuter rail. But I continued to do the right thing and bought my monthly pass. In hindsight, maybe that was idiotic and I should've taken advantage of the system like other people. Oh well.