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MBTA fiscal control board report cites ‘deep-seated’ problems

Says woes deeper than was thought

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Assembly Station on the Orange Line.

By Nicole Dungca Globe Staff 

The board that oversees the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority says the agency’s problems are even more “serious and deep-seated” than a previous panel had discovered earlier this year, according to the board’s first report to the Legislature.

The report released on Tuesday is a bleak assessment of the T, summarizing the board’s findings since it first began meeting in July. Those disclosures, many of which were previously made public, include:

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 The T’s annual operating budget is “unsustainable,” and could lead to a $427 million budget gap by 2020 if officials do not address the rate of growth.

 T officials say they would need nearly $7.3 billion to fully upgrade its infrastructure to good working order. The T should have been spending about $472 million on upgrades to its vehicles, tracks and other infrastructure. But since 2009, the T has only been spending an average of about $389 million a year.

 Absences by drivers are the leading reason for lost bus, subway, and trolley trips. Absences also account for $14 million of $53 million in overtime spent during the 2015 fiscal year.

Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the fiscal and management control board, said the report has helped members understand the breadth of the challenges facing the MBTA.

“This deeper dive has demonstrated to us that the challenges are wider and deeper than we thought,” he said.

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After the MBTA faltered amid record-breaking snowstorms this winter, Governor Charlie Baker appointed a panel to diagnose some of the agency’s problems. After the panel released its findings, Baker then lobbied the Legislature to create the five-person “fiscal and management control board” to whip the T into shape.

On Tuesday, the report of the board’s first 60 days was delivered to the Legislature’s transportation and ways and means committees, according to Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman.

The report contains few surprises, though it does outline additional areas the board intends to focus on. The board will soon release weekly score cards that show on-time performance for subway, bus, and commuter rail service lines. The score cards will also eventually include canceled bus or commuter rail trains, and statistics on the Green Line.

The board also wants to further examine positive train control, a technology that could help prevent train crashes.

The T in the past has said such a system, which is required by law, will cost the agency nearly $490 million.

The report included some good news about the progress made in recent months.

For example, it touts an $82.7 million “winter resiliency plan,” which includes replacements to the subway’s third rail and its heaters, as well as new snow-fighting equipment for the commuter rail system.

Aiello, the other control board members, and T officials will formally present the report to the Legislature during a hearing on Sept. 30.

The board is then scheduled to release another report in December that will recommend more improvements to the T’s finances and management.

Representative William Straus, a Democrat from Mattapoisett who cochairs the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee, said the report made him optimistic about changes that could be coming.

“It clearly reflects an effort to organize a number of issues involving day to day operations, capital expenditures, and planning that had been missing from the T’s sense of mission over the last several decades,” he said.


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