In 2019, the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board flagged safety as a major concern and established a Safety Review Panel. This past February, the T reported that 66% of the recommendations and corrective actions identified by the Safety Review Panel were complete, 25% were ongoing, and 6% were on-hold. At the time, A Better City spoke publicly to the critical importance of the four actions that were on-hold, three of which were related to funding safety actions, and one focused on improving the safety culture at the MBTA.
Despite the MBTA’s reported efforts to improve safety, fatal and various other accidents continued to occur with increasing frequency. In May 2022, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced it was “extremely concerned with ongoing safety issues [at the T]” and that it would take on an “increased safety oversight role” of the MBTA.
On Wednesday, June 15, 2022, the FTA released five, timebound, preliminary Special Directives calling on the MBTA to take immediate action to address critical safety lapses related to 1) Track Maintenance; 2) Vehicle Securement of Disabled Trains; 3) Operations Control Center (OCC); 4) Lapsed Certifications; and 5) Safety Management Inspection. The FTA also announced that these initial directives will be followed by a more comprehensive and substantive report that they expect to release by fall.
The FTA Special Directives highlight an alarming lack of attention to the MBTA’s human capital and operational functions. For example, the Special Directive on the Operations Control Center (OCC) notes that the “MBTA’s hours of service requirements, which allow dispatchers and supervisors to work up to 20 hours on with only four hours off…do not ensure that OCC dispatchers and supervisors are properly rested.” Additionally, the Special Directive on Lapsed Certifications calls out that “out the four rail transit lines, the Green Line had the highest levels of non-compliance, with 221 motorpersons (41%), 25 inspectors (26%), 8 supervisors (50%), and 12 yard masters (100%) late for annual recertification.”
The FTA’s corrective actions have specific deadlines and outline the process for reporting. Some actions require immediate attention and reporting as early as Friday, June 17, 2022, while for others, the MBTA has 15 to 35 days to develop and submit corrective plans to the FTA and Department of Public Utilities (DPU). Of note, in the Special Directive on Safety Management Inspection Conducted at the MBTA, the FTA raised “concerns regarding the DPU’s ability to effectively oversee the MBTA’s compliance with its own practices and procedures.”
Holding the MBTA accountable with set deadlines is critical to making progress on safety at the T. As Rick Dimino, President & CEO, A Better City, recently told the Boston Globe, “If we expect people to come back to the T, we need the T to be engaged in safety as a priority with real outcomes, to be able to prove to the public that the T is safe.”
The MBTA Board of Directors approved the MBTA’s FY23 budget on June 9, 2022, which provided level funding (25% of budget) from FY22 for system maintenance and security. A Better City testified calling on the Board to prioritize safety in the FY23 operating budget and reminding the Board and agency of the 2019 Safety Review Panel warnings highlighted in the 2020 A Better City White Paper, On the MBTA Safety Review Panel Report. Additionally, in April 2020, A Better City released Keeping the MBTA on Track: Review of Prior Commitments, with a section on safety.