MBTA wants to outsource emergency dispatching system
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials want to outsource the agency’s police dispatching services, the latest in a series of departments the agency is hoping to privatize to save money.
The agency plans to offer a three-year, $6 million contract to IXP Corporation, a New Jersey-based company that could take over the transit police’s dispatching system. Officials could extend the contract two more years for about $4 million.
Preston Horton, the deputy chief of patrol at the MBTA’s Transit Police, said that outsourcing dispatching services could put more trained police officers to work patrolling stations, rather than leaving them behind desks. No officers would be laid off under the plan.
“By bringing in a civilian dispatch, we’re going to be able to streamline 15 officers out to the system,” he said.
But instead of approving the plan on Monday, the agency’s fiscal control board decided to postpone the vote at least another week, after asking pointed questions about how much the agency will spend on the deal and whether the T was able to find enough competition for the contract.
The agency has already proposed outsourcing departments such as its warehousing and stockroom services, and its cash-counting operation called “the money room.” Officials say the moves could save millions and improve efficiency in the company.
The agency’s Transit Police currently use about 15 officers to staff their dispatch system, which fields about 30,000 emergency calls, and 70,000 nonemergency calls annually. But if a private system took over the dispatch system, those officers could take on other police duties, Horton said. Representatives for the MBTA Police Association did not immediately return requests for comment on the privatization plan.
While the agency has tried to justify other outsourcing proposals with promises of millions of dollars in savings, it said that the dispatching contract would cost almost as much as the current operation over a five-year period: $10.15 million, compared with $10.19 million, according to the agency’s data.
Gerald Polcari, the chief procurement officer of the T, said that the real savings would come from not needing to pay pension costs from hiring additional officers.
Horton pointed out that the T’s police department has undergone a transformation in recent months, partly by assigning officers to duty in more strategic ways, such as increasing their presence in high ridership areas. Officers said crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery, and arson have decreased by 31 percent over the last six months, and overtime has fallen about 26 percent to $3.3 million. Officials said continued success would hinge on putting more officers out on patrol.
The new contract would also give the agency more financial predictability and better performance-based metrics, according to the T.
IXP Corporation was one of three bidders that responded to the agency’s call for proposals, and is a giant within the private police dispatch sector.
But board chairman Joseph Aiello wondered if the T was truly reaping the benefits of putting the service out to bid, since there were only three bidders and the others were not responsive in some ways.
“When you enter into a field where there really isn’t that much competition, you don’t get the price pressure, and you don’t get a lot of innovation,” Aiello said.
Steve Poftak, another board member, also wanted clarification on how it would affect the agency’s $27 million police budget.
“In doing this, we are agreeing to increase that budget by $2 million a year for the next five years,” he said. “Is that consistent with the budgets we have seen previously? Where does this fit in the overall strategy of cost control?”
At one point, Horton defended the move, saying that the plan was important for safety, not just cost.
Officials on Monday also said they would release a request for qualifications from companies that could install new fare collection technology. In March, the agency detailed plans to eventually phase out the use of cash on buses and vehicles, and allow passengers to use their smartphones, credit cards, and new CharlieCards instead.