Metro

Review faults T on maintenance, disabled riders

Boston, MA - 04/09/15 - Repair foreman Tom Pearson readies the propulsion unit (a sort of transmission for power distribution to a train's motors) of a Red Line train for repairs at the MBTA maintenance facility in South Boston. Lane Turner/Globe Staff Section: METRO Reporter: levinson Slug: 17mbtaolympics

Lane Turner/Globe Staff file

Maintenance employees worked on a Red Line train in South Boston in April.

Federal transit investigators have found that the MBTA does not have a comprehensive plan for maintaining its subway and trolley tracks and stations, and provides subpar van service to riders with disabilities.

The Federal Transit Administration, in a report obtained Wednesday, also said that the T has not hired enough staff to properly monitor a program meant to increase the number of contracts given to businesses owned by women and by members of minority groups.

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The criticism of the agency’s plans to properly maintain its trains, buses, and stations comes just as commuters are warily wondering whether the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority can avoid a repeat of its failures last winter.

The T has estimated it would take more than $7 billion to get all of its infrastructure in good working order. Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, said in an e-mail that the agency believes “it’s important that we quickly address the items that require corrective action.”

Pesaturo said that the agency is following the federal agency’s recommendations to develop a detailed maintenance plan, and also said that the auditors did not question the quality or level of its maintenance.

The federal agency reviews the T’s compliance with federal regulations every three years. The latest report, dated Nov. 24, stemmed from reviews that took place Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.

The federal agency found the T out of compliance in five of 17 areas: maintenance, procurement, access for disabled citizens, helping disadvantaged businesses, and regulations for a drug-free workplace.

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Under federal regulations, the MBTA must have a comprehensive maintenance plan in its files. But federal officials found that the T lacked a “comprehensive and overall” plan for maintaining its subway and trolley tracks and stations and doesn’t keep a maintenance plan for vehicles it uses for its door-to-door service for the disabled.

Transit administration officials also found that MBTA engineers and maintenance employees who work on tracks, signals, power, and facilitiesdon’t operate collaboratively.

“These appear to operate somewhat effectively, but also somewhat independently,” officials wrote in the review, first reported by the State House News Service.

In the report, federal officials ordered the MBTA to do a better job of coordinating its maintenance program across the sprawling agency. In addition, the MBTA was ordered to ask the operators of its ferry service, Boston Harbor Cruises, to submit more detailed reports about its required maintenance on boats that used federal funds.

The problems with the agency’s plans to properly maintain its vehicles and stations struck some observers as the most important finding.

“When you talk about maintenance, you’re talking about system safety,” said William Straus, a Democratic state representative who cochairs the Legislature’s joint transportation committee. “And that always has to be paramount issue out there for the T or any other transportation system.”

Steve Poftak, a member of the MBTA’s fiscal control board who reviewed the report, said he was not surprised by the findings. A panel appointed by Governor Charlie Baker faulted the MBTA earlier this year for not having a viable maintenance plan.

In the report, federal officials ordered the MBTA to do a better job of coordinating its maintenance program across the sprawling agency.

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“The issue isn’t that there aren’t maintenance plans, but it’s that the maintenance plans that we have are not comprehensive and not integrated,” he said. “I think doing that is one of the things we want, as well.”

Federal Transit Administration officials also reported that the MBTA is out of compliance with federal requirements that govern The Ride, its door-to-door van service for disabled customers. Next year, T officials are expected to mull service cuts and fare hikes for The Ride, which has been targeted in the past for its costs.

According to the report, some of the rides on the service are “excessively long,” and vans are typically unavailable for a return trip for at least two to three hours after passengers are dropped off. The Oak Grove Station is also not accessible for disabled travelers as the MBTA makes changes to the station, according to the report.

Federal officials also focused on the T’s efforts to track a program meant to help what are known as disadvantaged vendors, including companies owned by members of minority groups. Similar problems were identified in 2009 and 2012.

The MBTA doesn’t have enough staff members to properly run the office that tracks contracts for companies owned by women and members of minority groups, according to federal officials.

Of five compliance officer positions, for example, four have been left unfilled.

“Further, the inadequate staffing hampers the full level of effort to ensure . . . contract compliance, monitoring for commercially useful function, data gathering, report preparation and performance measuring,” the report said.

The federal agency has asked the MBTA to submit quarterly reports that show how it is trying to comply with contracting rules for disadvantaged companies, and plans that make sure the staff is aware of the federal requirements in the first place.

The report was prepared for the local offices of the Federal Transit Administration. It was issued on Nov. 24.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.
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