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Computer system, policies contribute to T’s problems

More than two thirds of the subway trips and bus trips that were canceled by the T between January and August were scratched because no driver was available.
More than two thirds of the subway trips and bus trips that were canceled by the T between January and August were scratched because no driver was available.Kieran Kesner for The Boston Globe

The MBTA has such an outdated computer system that it has been unable to provide the board that oversees it with a list of job classifications, a member of the board that oversees the T told the Legislature on Wednesday.

The five-person fiscal control board, which tasked with overhauling the MBTA, has already made public a litany of financial and management problems facing the T. On Wednesday, control board member Brian Lang added antiquated technology and personnel policies to the list.

Board members and state transportation officials testified before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation about the board’s recently released report, which painted a bleak picture of the T.

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Lang, the president of the UNITE HERE Local 26 hotel and food service workers union, said the T suffered from a dysfunctional system that often made it difficult to fill vacant jobs.

“There’s broken personnel policies and procedures that are unclear and difficult to track,” he said.

On Wednesday, Lang displayed a slide that showed that 68.7 percent of the subway trips and bus trips that were canceled by the T between January and August were scratched because no driver was available.

About 47 percent of those absences came from workers who use the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives workers an excuse to be intermittently absent for chronic illness or to take care of family members. According to the report, nearly one in three T employees is certified to take advantage of the act, compared to 6.8 percent of Transportation Department employees.

But he also pointed out that many trips were canceled because the job was vacant, not that the driver failed to show up.

Lang said they were already working to address some of those problems by hiring managers who could properly oversee absenteeism at the T, and fill vacant jobs.

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Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the control board, said the challenges are “extremely broad” and on seemingly every level, whether it’s trying to cut costs or order the right vehicles and infrastructure.

In December, the board is going to lay out a number of cost-cutting strategies to help tackle what they have described as an “unsustainable” budget. In its report, board members have said that the T could run a deficit of $427 million in 2020 if it continues to spend at a similar rate.

The T gets a large amount of its budget from state sales tax revenue. Governor Charlie Baker and his administration have made it clear that they want to cut costs and increase revenue from advertising and real estate, before asking the Legislature for additional subsidies.

But Representative William Straus, the co-chair of the Transportation Committee, said Wednesday it would not be fair to paint the T as the only agency that needs extra state assistance to function properly.

“The fact that the T has and perhaps will, going forward, need additional help from the Legislature beyond what is mandated, is not uncommon here or in other jurisdictions,” he said.


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