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‘Deep-seated’ problems plague MBTA, control board report finds

The MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board released a report Tuesday detailing the steps that need to be taken to get back on track following last winter. PHOTO BY OLIVIA NADEL/DFP FILE PHOTO

Underlying problems with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority are “even more serious and deep-seated” than expected, the first report by the agency’s Fiscal and Management Control Board found.

The board, established by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, detailed in its Tuesday report the rising operations costs, absenteeism and unsustainable budget that plague the MBTA.

“Without question, this report paints a bleak picture of the current state of the MBTA,” FMCB Chairman Joseph Aiello said in a Tuesday press release. “But it provides the baseline we need to be able to move forward with actions to get the MBTA back on track.”

The FMCB report found that the MBTA’s expenses are increasing at nearly three times the rate of revenue growth. Additionally, yearly spending on maintenance, or the “state of good repair,” fell nearly $100 million short of what is needed to prevent an increase in the backlog of repairs, the report stated.

During its first 60 days, the FMCB has prepared a winter resiliency plan, signed a plan to improve the commuter rail, quantified the repair backlog and strengthened the MBTA management structure, the report stated.

The delivery of new snow-fighting equipment for the commuter rail as well as field tests are underway to ensure that improvements will translate into performance, according to the report.

On top of structural and managerial defects, the MBTA has been facing significant employee absenteeism, the report stated, which is the leading cause of dropped trips and delays for MBTA customers.

Of the $53 million the MBTA spent on overtime in 2015, $11 million was caused by the need to cover vacant positions and unscheduled absences, according to the report.

Despite the report’s identification of a wide range of problems, Charlie Ticotsky of Transportation for Massachusetts, an advocacy group for safe and affordable transportation, said the report neglected to include funding allocated to the MBTA by the 2013 Transportation Finance Act.

“There were several hundreds of millions of dollars per year for transportation through that law and some of the money was envisioned to help the T’s finances,” Ticotsky said. “It is subject to appropriation every year, so it’s not guaranteed money, but when the legislature was working on that bill, the intent was that some of the funding would go to the T to help stabilize the finances.”

Ticotsky agrees that the areas the report focused on were important, but he emphasized that more needs to be done.

“While we do agree that it’s important to look at cost controls and some ways to increase revenue generated from the T,” Ticotsky said, “we think that it’s an important source of revenue, this additional assistance, and the ultimate solution would probably be a combination of those things including the additional assistance from the budget.”

Several residents said overcrowding and delays are among problems that have become part of their experience with the MBTA.

Janna Cunnion, 25, of Brighton, is new to Boston and said she is so far happy with MBTA service, but is concerned about the coming winter.

“I’ve heard many stories and I followed the coverage on the news,” she said. “I am concerned … I don’t have a car so I’m completely relying on the T.”

Caroline Gannon, a sophomore in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences, said she’s been dissatisfied with T service lately.

“Lately, particularly with the Green Line, there have been a lot of delays,” she said. “I feel like whenever I go down there there’s some kind of delay.”

Mary Hunter, 81, of Back Bay, said her experience with the MBTA has been average, but that she is hopeful for the future.

“I think they’re trying to encourage people to take the MBTA rather than drive, but they aren’t making it any easier for people when they’re so crowded. They run frequently here [at Kenmore Station] more than other places,” she said. “The governor is going to make some efforts, at least I hope. So I’m hoping that he will be able to do something for the MBTA to get it back on track.”

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