The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will continue to pursue outsourcing the jobs of employees who count cash fares, despite protests from workers and some reticence from members of the MBTA’s oversight board.
On Monday, officials said such privatization efforts must move quickly because of ongoing “variances” between how much fare boxes and vending machines say they are collecting, and how much cash is actually being deposited. The T made some progress in addressing the reliability of its fare collection in the past but has not eliminated the problem.
“This is a problem that needs to be rectified immediately,” Brian Shortsleeve, the T’s chief administrator, said during the control board’s weekly meeting.
Officials did not publicly say how much money the MBTA has had trouble tracking recently, but Shortsleeve referred to a 2012 audit that found hardware and software deficiencies had led to a $101 million variance over five years.
The T recently hired CliftonLarsonAllen, a consulting firm, to complete a $15,000 audit to gauge the current situation.
Monica Orr, a 25-year veteran of the T, warned the fiscal control board that the quality of services could deteriorate with outside employees. Orr has worked for about five years in the “money room,” the nickname for the department that counts cash fares.
“If you give these jobs to a private company, there is no way the MBTA can expect the same level of dedication to the job,” she said. “Privatizing these jobs will ensure a team of employees who work at low pay, don’t care about one another, and have little care for the important role of the money room.”
Joseph E. Barr, director of traffic, parking, and transportation for the city of Cambridge, told the board it may have trouble finding companies willing to take over the job for a cheaper price. Control board member Brian Lang also questioned the move to privatization, arguing that officials knew hardware and software are largely to blame.
“Why would we issue a request for proposals [from outside companies] using the same equipment?” said Lang, president of a hotel and food workers union. “As I understand it, it doesn’t seem like there is human error involved — or theft — and what it sounds like is that there is some technological issue of the equipment we already have.”
Nicholas Easley, the T’s recently hired director of flexible contracting, said it was more than just equipment. “It’s an entire process failure,” he said.
The “money room” counts about $142 million each year for the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, as well as parking revenue for the cities of Cambridge and Boston. Currently, the MBTA spends about $10 million on 78 employees in the department.
Outsourcing would be one of the first major efforts by Governor Charlie Baker’s administration to take advantage of a temporary suspension of the so-called Pacheco law, which put up hurdles for privatization at public agencies. Baker persuaded the Legislature to give the T a temporary reprieve from the law as part of his efforts to transform the transit system’s finances.
Also Monday, the control board approved implementing a discount for 12- to 25-year-olds who may not qualify for the T’s discounted student pass. The T had been testing a “Youth Pass” for a year that gave discounts to 12- to 21-year-olds, a program that was spurred by years of protest by transit activists.