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Report faults DOT, MBTA over parking costs

190 rented spots at issue, IG says

An audit by the Office of the Inspector General asserts that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the MBTA have bungled the management of 190 parking spots the agencies rent in two downtown Boston parking garages, wasting tens of thousands of dollars.

Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha said the scope of the audit represents a small part of the agency’s budget, but he said MassDOT can come up with substantial savings by following some of the report’s recommendations.

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“MassDOT is dealing in billion of dollars. This is short money relative to the major budget,” Cunha said. Still, he said, “we are indentifying ways for them to find efficiencies.”

The report, released last week and conducted by the Internal Special Audit Unit, a division of the inspector general’s office that focuses on the state’s transportation operations, was suggested by MassDOT itself: The transit agency’s general counsel expressed concerns that the department’s parking policy should be scrutinized more closely.

The report focuses on two parking garages: City Place Garage in the Theatre District and a garage at 185 Kneeland St. , south of South Station.

According to the report, MassDOT and the MBTA spend $29,000 per year on 19 underutilized parking passes, including six held by MassDOT board members who use them only a handful of days each month; $10,000 per year to house state vehicles that seldom make outings; and $4,500 per year to provide 24-hour parking passes to three employees who could use less expensive vouchers.

Instead of paying for parking passes, the report recommends, people who need parking privileges but use them sparingly should be given vouchers by MassDOT that cost $20 for a day of parking.

“They are overpaying, and they just didn’t monitor it closely enough,” said Sally Atwell, the director of the Internal Special Audit Unit.

The report also admonished MassDOT for using borrowed money to pay for the parking passes, as accrued interest will cost taxpayers more in the long run. And it faulted MassDOT for failing to have a clear-cut policy on which employees qualify for free parking passes. Without a written system, Cunha asserted, the transit agency is ripe for accusations of discrimination or unfairness.

“I think it’s prevalent in any office situation — everybody, I’m sure, wants all the benefits they can get,” Cunha said, “but there needs to be policies in place with regard to how certain policies are meted out.”

Richard A. Davey, the state’s transportation secretary, said the report was helpful in pointing out some practices that he planned to address. Still, he said, not all the report’s findings were fair.

“There’s certainly some things we can change,” Davey said, “and there are a few others I’m not quite sure make sense.”

Davey took issue with one of the report’s findings, which asserted that the MBTA should include 32 parking passes at the 185 Kneeland St. lot as employees’ taxable benefits.

Because the parking lot is not open to members of the public, Davey said, it shouldn’t be considered a fringe benefit — just as most companies do not tax employees for spots in company-only lots, and just as MassDOT provides free employee parking at other district offices in Taunton, Lenox, Arlington, Worcester, and Northampton.

And though some state vehicles are not used on a daily basis, Davey said, they are important to have on-site in emergency situations.

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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