Aug 31, 2022 - News

Federal report highlights MBTA's deficiencies, staffing issues

MBTA orange line
A Forest Hills Orange Line train. Photo: Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The results of a federal inspection out Wednesday confirmed what many Boston transit riders have learned firsthand in recent years: Riding the nation’s oldest transit system has become increasingly dangerous.

Driving the news: In a scathing 90-page report, the Federal Transit Administration concluded that the MBTA’s prioritization of long-term projects over short-term fixes has resulted in insufficient workers, training protocols and safety measures.

Why it matters: Hundreds of thousands of people take the MBTA to work, school, doctor’s appointments and other destinations, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The T reported a higher rate of safety incidents and derailments than other transit system nationwide between January 2019 and April 2022, culminating in the death of 39-year-old Robinson Lalin, who was dragged by a Red Line train.
  • Even during the inspection, the MBTA has experienced collisions and other safety incidents, including a July 21 fire on the Orange Line in which passengers had to be evacuated over the Mystic River.

The bottom line: The feds issued four new directives to the MBTA one to the Department of Public Utilities, which oversees the transit agency, to address safety hazards, training gaps and other deficiencies. Those are in addition to the mandates issued in June.

  • The Boston agencies have between 20 and 45 days to submit corrective action plans to the feds with a timeline for the fixes.
  • Among other problems, MBTA officials need to address at least 14 dead zones so employees can communicate by radio. The feds said poor radio quality was a contributing factor in several safety incidents.

State of play: The FTA stopped short of requiring a federal takeover, but FTA spokesperson Paul Kincaid said the feds will monitor the MBTA and DPU to make sure they meet their obligations, even as the T faces major staffing shortages.

  • “The staff they have is going to have to be what they have to do the job. The system has to get safer. It’s just not an option,” Kincaid told reporters Wednesday. “The special directives are issued and have deadlines with reason behind them.”

The other side: The MBTA created a new unit — called the quality, compliance and oversight office — to address the safety problems, said General Manager Steve Poftak in a statement Wednesday.

  • “The MBTA’s number one priority remains safety for both our riders and our employees,” Poftak said, adding that the MBTA has already begun responding to some of the federal mandates.
  • Gov. Charlie Baker (R) proposed Wednesday setting aside $200 million for the MBTA to use on addressing the federal directives, in addition to $10 million for MassDOT and the MBTA to develop a training academy to recruit employees.

Editor's note: This post was updated with additional details.

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