MORE UNHAPPY REVELATIONS FROM THE MBTA

Brian Shortsleeve

^ Brian Shortsleeve, MBTA operations manager : it’s up to him now, and to General manager Frank DiPaola, to put into permanent effect the accountability commitments made imperative but what we have learned of past T mis-mangement

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Perhaps, as my friend Ed Lyons suggests, the voters of Massachusetts are finally excavating the last of the ill-advised stuff that has plagued MBTA operations for more than a decade. Certainly the latest revelations are ugly :

1.the T worker who clocked over $ 270,000 in overtime hours approved his own overtime slips, somehow, despite such approval supposedly requiring the okay of a supervisor.

2.the T’s employee pension fund invested about 20 percent of its money in low-interest rate bonds backed by credit swaps that have now turned aggressively against it, forcing the pension fund to pay OUT some $ 26 million a year.

You can read all about the pension fund’s surprising investment strategy in this Boston Globe article : http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/02/21/mbta-evaluating-costly-hedges-its-debt/xfqJpv4Duuhc2NJZ0z2raN/story.html

What the blazes did the T’s pension fund managers think they were doing, investing in interest rate swaps ? Putting T funds at risk, for the sake of a few interest income points that have now turned bearish ? The “prudent investor” rule, created by courts overseeing trustees of funds at least 150 years ago, has permanent application : the first obligation of a money manager is not to LOSE his clients’ money. It’s OK, if you’re risking your own money, to accept big risk in an arena of unforeseeable unknowns. It is NOT OK if you’re investing other people’s money.

It’s possible — though I hope not — that we the public have become numb to the financial mismanagement found by Governor Baker’s MBTA Fiscal Control Board (FCB) and reported, one finding after another, all year long. But numb need not mean dumb. We need to continue our outcry until such time as the FCB has put in place all of the accountability commitments that a public service like the T owes to its public. It is an outrage that the MBTA has been permitted to mismanage all these years; a scandal, to waste its resources and then call upon the legislature for more money to waste; an insult, to hire one general manager after another, only to say “nothing doing” when she, in good faith (one hopes), seeks some measure of reform. But that’s what you get when your Governor doesn’t bite the bullet.

So much for the bad news, however. There is actually good news at the T.

We appear, finally, to have uncovered the last of the T’s closet skeletons. The light shines on every part of T finance : pension risk; overtime abuse; missed trips; fares not collected because fared machines don’t work; over-expensive maintenance work; signal breakdowns and track failure; drivers forgetting to brake a train while they step outside it; lack of infrastructure winterization; imposing the Big Dig debt on T finance; Green Line expansion’s contracting mistakes; the unreview-ability of a Carmens’ Union binding arbitration¬† rulings.

It confounds me that almost everey6 aspect of MBTA operation was allowed to fall to the failure level : previous Governors and legislatures have a lot to answer for. Yet here we are. There’s a new boss in town, and he is NOT the same as the old boss.

The public may now, finally, be ready to trust the MBTA with the vast new money it will need to upgrade infrastructure,m replace old trains, expand, install wi-fi in trains, install heat in T and bus stations, assure that Charlie card machines work, account for bus trips by online rather than by hand, manage T workers’ pension money prudently, and integrate its services with outside transportation providers.

Just in time for the arrival of new Orange Line and Red Line cars beginning in 2018.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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