After seven months of rubber-stamping nearly everything put before it, the MBTA board of directors this week balked, at least for a month, at approving a $102 million, five-year contract to hire 200 Transit Ambassadors.
Transit Ambassadors are the MBTA’s greeters. Assigned to 68 station locations, they help customers needing directions, buying tickets, or finding the best route to their destination. They are also the T’s eyes and ears in stations, monitoring whether elevators, escalators, and ticket gates are working properly.
The Transit Ambassador program was launched in 2017 and the initial contract with MyDatt Services of Nashville is set to expire at the end of June. T officials notified more than 200 vendors that it was looking to sign a new five-year contract and expand to 30 more locations. Only two companies showed any interest, and MyDatt was the only company to submit a bid.
Jeff Cook, the T’s procurements chief, said the transit authority allowed the two companies that showed some interest to submit best and final offers. MyDatt complied, shaving its bid by $470,000, Cook said.
Members of the MBTA board were astounded at the size of the contract and the lack of interest. Robert Butler, a labor union official, said he was not a fan of the contract. “I find it impossible that a company out of Tennessee is going to come in here and give us 200 people,” he said.
Travis McCready, an executive director at JLL, said several times that the contract was very large. “I’m very surprised about the size of the contract and the lack of responsiveness to the RFP,” he said.
Cook explained that MyDatt basically acts as a hiring agent for the T, which trains the workers. Cook said MyDatt and the T discovered early on in the original contract that paying $17 an hour was not enough to attract workers, so the pay was raised to $18 an hour, then to $19, and finally to the current level of $20.16 an hour. Cook said he did not know what other benefits the workers received and offered to check.
McCready said the 15 percent target for minority hires seemed low, but T officials said the company far exceeds that level currently, with 80 percent of the workers and 70 percent of the managers people of color.
Betsy Taylor, the chair of the board, asked why the T didn’t hire the workers and dispense with MyDatt. Cook said it was determined in 2017, when the program was launched, that it would be cheaper to contract out for the workers.
Steve Poftak, the T’s general manager, said he would prefer to leave the Transit Ambassador hiring to someone else. “We have hundreds of positions open and we have chosen to prioritize safety positions and direct service positions, particularly bus operators,” he said. “The notion of internally standing up another function would be very difficult for the T to do at the current time and would be dilutive of those efforts.”
Jamey Tesler, who serves on the T board as the secretary of transportation, recommended putting off a vote on the contract for at least a month, allowing Cook to provide more information on the company’s benefits. Cook said he would seek an extension of MyDatt’s current contract to give the T board more time to review the new one.
Horse-trading over Boston schools: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu submits a counteroffer to state officials to stave off a state takeover of the city’s troubled school system. The state has not said what its initial offer entailed, but Wu’s response makes a number of pledges to address concerns raised in a state report that described the system as “dysfunctional.”
– The city proposal promises quick action in a range of areas, including a “deep redesign” of the system’s special education services, a new strategic plan for “multilingual learners” by October 1, and regular reporting to the state on compliance with mandated services to English learners.
– State Education Commission Jeff Riley has said he wants to strike some sort of deal with Boston within a week. The key sticking point is likely the degree of state involvement. Wu’s plan puts state officials in more of a supportive role, and also calls on them to provide $10 million in state assistance. Read more.
COVID quarantine shift: The state is no longer requiring children in camps, daycares, and schools to quarantine if they are asymptomatic but exposed to COVID, even if they are unvaccinated. Read more.
T’s 3 priorities: The MBTA board lays out its priorities – safety, infrastructure, and addressing looming shortfalls in the operating budget. Board chair Betsy Taylor says safety is the No. 1 priority. “While thousands of people ride the T safely each day, too many tragic accidents have occurred of late,” she said. Read more.
Speaker’s priorities: House Speaker Ron Mariano lays out his legislative priorities in the closing days of the session in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Some sort of tax relief is on his list, as is sports betting. He slams the Senate version of sports betting legislation, calling it paternalistic. Read more.
Child tax credit: Joshua McCabe of the Niskanen Center urges the Legislature to adopt Gov. Charlie Baker’s child tax credit proposal, saying it will strengthen the state’s pro-family reputation. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The Senate approves a nearly $50 billion state budget. (Eagle-Tribune)
The House passes a bill to address sexting and revenge porn. (State House News Service)
The Legislature sends a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses to the governor’s desk. (State House News)
Senate staffers say harassment on Beacon Hill is rarely reported to human resources. (MassLive)
The Legislature formally exonerates Elizabeth Johnson, the last woman convicted of witchcraft at the Salem Witch Trials to not have received a pardon. (Associated Press)
Quincy’s city councilors reject a raise for themselves – then push back when the council president tries to give only himself a raise. (Patriot Ledger)
The Framingham Public School system is using federal COVID relief funds to give teachers and staff $1,000 bonuses. (MetroWest Daily News)
After the hospital cared for the first person in the US known to have monkeypox in a recent outbreak of the disease, workers at Massachusetts General Hospital were vaccinated against the virus, the first time the new inoculation has been used in the US outside clinical trials. (Boston Globe)
New accounts of chaos and a long delay by police in entering Robb Elementary School are calling into question claims by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that the “quick response” of law enforcement officials saved lives at Tuesday’s shooting at the school that killed 19 students and 2 teachers. (Washington Post)
US Rep. Seth Moulton will introduce a bill to create a new tax credit that would make it easier for lobstermen to comply with laws protecting right whales. (Gloucester Daily Times)
Laws in states like New York and Massachusetts that restrict who can carry concealed weapons are likely to be overturned by the US Supreme Court. (WBUR)
The superintendent of the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District refuted Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl’s claim earlier this week that his daughter, a sophomore at the local high school, was forced to sign a “white privilege” pledge. (Boston Globe)
Soaring diesel fuel prices, which ripple their way through all aspects of the economy, are a huge factor in the inflation the US economy is experiencing. (Boston Globe)
AAA predicts busy roadways and a high volume of travelers over Memorial Day weekend. (Telegram & Gazette)
Gov. Charlie Baker wants to invest $750 million in federal stimulus funds in the state’s Clean Energy Center in an effort to make the state a “global leader in energy innovation,” but the Legislature has so far not jumped at his proposal. (Boston Globe)
The former Uxbridge town accountant is sentenced to three years in jail for stealing $1 million from four towns. (Telegram & Gazette)
A West Springfield police officer is placed on leave over allegations of stalking a woman and improper behavior at the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade. (MassLive)