MBTA OFFICIALS ARE eyeing a nearly 67 percent spike in the agency’s projected structural deficit, a hole caused by lower fare revenues from people avoiding what they view as the unreliable service and continued cost overruns by the agency’s paratransit service despite privatization.

Michael Abramo, the T’s chief administrator, told members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that fare collections were down more than $7 million so far this year, caused mainly by people who say in surveys they can’t rely on the service and have cut back on its use.

In addition, The Ride, the agency’s on-demand service for handicapped riders, is running nearly $13 million over budget despite a new private call center vendor that was touted as a way to streamline dispatching service and better coordinate resources.

Abramo also said the MBTA’s pension contribution increased by $10 million in June, bringing the total to more than $90 million. In addition, the T has yet to pare out $5 million in projected savings from the commuter rail service. The agency has hired former general manager Dan Grabauskas as executive director of commuter rail, who will analyze and lead the effort to implement the savings. (Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said commuter rail operator, Keolis, was responsible for the savings.)

While the T has made some gains in revenue from real estate deals and recovering money from a former parking manager for lost fees, the result is still a projected structural deficit of $50 million, up from an estimated $30.5 million for fiscal year 2018.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the red numbers will force officials to look carefully at proposals for expansion of services as well as potential pilot programs, which the T had begun soliciting ideas for last year.

“We all know that we are not going to be able to say yes to everything,” said Pollack.

The budget presentation followed a dire report on the state of The Ride, which is suffering from a high number of complaints and anemic revenues caused by people abandoning the service because cars are late, or sometimes don’t even come.

Ben Schutzman, the T’s director of director of transportation innovation, said the number of complaints about The Ride is double last year’s average during the month of October, with four complaints per thousand trips, though it is down from a high of 14 per thousand trips in June.

Schutzman said the service continues to fail in reaching the 90 percent threshold for on-time performance, continually running in the low- to mid-80 percent range. The number of trips that are 30 or more minutes late runs about 28 per thousand, far above the 19 per thousand benchmark, and the number of missed trips is eight per thousand, nearly four times the benchmark set by the T.

Schutzman said that lack of system reliability has resulted in the number of paid trip dropping by 4 percent compared to the same time last year.

“We are failing,” said board member Steve Poftak, who served as acting general manager for the agency earlier this year while the search for a permanent GM was underway.

Some of the suggestions from T officials for reining in costs for The Ride include postponing a proposed veterans transportation service until the new operators of the dispatch service improve their performance and sending out a request for proposals for new ride-sharing service proposals, such as Uber and Lyft.

A group of seniors and advocates for the disabled showed up at the board’s meeting to warn them against any thought of cutting back The Ride.

“Any effort to cut services will be met with resistance,” said Carolyn Villers, executive director of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council. “We will not stand by and watch that happen.”


14 replies on “T budget deficit up”


  2. If the MBTA’s privatized call center is running nearly $13 million over budget then does that mean the anticipated $12 million to $17 million in savings from privatization didn’t materialize?

  3. So I’ve been reading that the most ridership is lost on bus trips, and that also happens to be the worst performer for on time and worker absenteeism. Coincidence? Riders going to Hubway, Uber, Lyft, and personal vehicles.

  4. Buses have to deal with traffic in and around the city and people using the farebox. Use some common sense. People get to a subway station pay at a turnstile then board a train that’s only traffic is if the train ahead is running behind.

    I thought absenteeism was a statewide issue. Didn’t hear it was mainly buses

  5. How much of this ridership drop is from bustitution during planning maintenance work? The Orange and Red Lines have had many weekends when part of the lines were bustituted due to planned track work or bridge work affecting service. Part of the Green Line was bustituted during the Comm Ave Bridge reconstruction. Of course people are going to find other ways to get where they are going when this happens.

    Add to that the appeal of Uber/Lyft during off-peak times, when T service is sporadic on a good day, it’s no surprise that the T is losing riders during those times. If the T wants to get riders back, they need more and better service. They can’t cut their way to success on this one.

  6. Yes, absenteeism is highest for bus drivers, and it’s understandable given how the city and state have intentionally made driving more stressful and unhealthy. They have been removing and narrowing lanes for bike lanes, adding bump outs, and used “traffic calming” treatments to increase stress. So between such unhealthy job stress and abusive passengers, I would hate my job too.

  7. Oh please. Very few travel lanes have been removed or altered for bike lanes. The biggest problem recently is simply too many cars on the road. I think a large part of it is Uber/Lyft, based on the number of cars with Uber/Lyft stickers on them. The irony is that the more people use Uber/Lyft, the slower the T buses because of the additional traffic, which then leads more people to use Uber/Lyft. I fear it’s a vicious cycle. It’s good that cities are looking to install transit signal priority for buses and bus lanes on some of our major streets. Buses SHOULD have priority since they are carrying a lot more people than a car.

  8. With the new automated fare collection (AFC 2.0), people will be able to board buses using all doors, and will no longer be able to use cash on board the bus (they’ll have to pay their fare in advance or use a credit card.) That should help speed up bus boarding, which today can be very slow since everyone must use the front door, and some people pay cash, which takes much longer than using a CharlieCard.

  9. AFC 2.0 was supposed to be rolled out next year and it got pushed back to 2020. The T will still have plenty of people trying to cheat the system or not pay at all, where i have seen first hand the driver get on the radio phone and be told to let the person ride….for free. Did you see that video on Facebook where the guy is teaching how to get past the turnstiles? What does that tell others that do the right thing? That keep paying the increases fares while the same person/s get to ride for free?

    Of course uber/lyft is taking tourists away, it is a direct connection to their destination without the hassle of taking the 441 from Lynn to wonderland, blue to orange, (or 426 to Haymarket to orange) then Malden to the 137 to get to Jordan’s Imax, for example.

  10. If only MBTA followed Lynx (Orlando FL buses).

    Against the law to not yield for a bus pulling out of a bus lane.

  11. Another way to view “too many cars on the road” is not enough road being added to meet needs, which has been the case for the last 45 years. Adding one lane to 128 and route 3 north of Burlington is simply inadequate compared to 45 years of economic growth and societal change where women went from staying at home to going to work to support themselves or a necessary second family paycheck. The big dig eased some bottlenecks, but not all the paths in and out. During peak commuter hours, the MBTA is no better, also at capacity. Poor transportation planning, funding, and execution in the last 50 years compared to the 50 previous years is why we are suffering.

  12. Not yielding to buses here forces drivers to be more aggressive and to not fully pull into bus stops in order to get out easier, thus impeding traffic while they are stopped. A yield law would be better. Also impeding traffic is lane narrowing so no room now for traffic to go around a car stopped to turn left – it all has to wait and piles up.

  13. If we should have learned anything, it’s that we can’t build our way out of roadway congestion by adding more lanes. The Big Dig added capacity in the city center, but even that backs up at rush hours now. More lanes just generates more traffic. Just look at cities who have added even more highway lanes than us. 8, 10, 12, 14 lanes, it doesn’t make any difference. Rush hours are a disaster. The only real solutions are a combination of better public transit and congestion charging on our roadways during peak periods.

  14. Repeating nonsense doesn’t make it true, Big Brother. Less is still not more. When capacity is added and it just fills up that means there was pent-up, unsatisfied demand. More travel lanes or subway cars both add capacity needed for economic growth. Think of traffic as people going to make money or spend money, and how that’s a good thing, not bad unless constrained, and worse when deliberately constrained.

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