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The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

MBTA needs major reforms before new revenue

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority suffers from poor management, inefficient spending, and excessive employee absenteeism, according to an panel of experts’ new report on the agency’s operations released last week. The report is a win for Governor Charlie Baker, who commissioned the report and has insisted the agency must be reformed before the state increases funding to fix its problems.

The MBTA’s service was hampered this winter as a record amount of snow fell on the Commonwealth, shutting it down entirely for several days. Problems with the agency have been apparent for years, and were addressed in earlier reports, but the most recent one titled, “Back on Track,” is far more in-depth and specific than its predecessors, according to the Boston Globe.

Among other problems, the MBTA has an unsustainable operating budget and has not invested enough in its fleet or infrastructure, according to the report, available on the state’s website.

What is most worrisome, are the unbelievable rates of employee absenteeism, with MBTA employees missing an average of 57 workdays per year.

Governor Charlie Baker speaking at Suffolk Law School in February 2014. (Courtesy of Suffolk University)

Additionally, about 30 percent of MBTA employees are authorized to take unscheduled, intermittent days off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The act allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave time to care for personal medical problems or sick family members, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But the high level of employees certified to take leave at the MBTA is “disruptive to productivity,” according to the report, which says the agency must crack down on workers who abuse the FMLA and other forms of leave.

Absenteeism averages at the MBTA are about twice as high as other agencies across the country, and about four times as high as the transportation industry, according to the report.

Anyone who relies on the MBTA for their daily commute should be worried. When employees don’t show up for work there is no guarantee that there will be someone available to replace them. That unpredictable factor could translate into canceled service and angry commuters.

At a time when it is crucial for the MBTA to make improvements, how can the agency improve if it can’t even manage its workforce?

I do not envy anyone who worked for the MBTA during this past winter. Inadequate equipment, furious commuters, and powerful storms must have made their jobs unimaginably trying. But if the problem of absenteeism is this severe, it didn’t start this winter, and it won’t end when summer comes and commuters’ anger from the winter recedes. Reforming the MBTA will require a change in its workplace culture, and that starts with good management at the top.

Baker cannot turn the agency around by himself. But this latest report shows he’s serious not only about identifying what is wrong at the MBTA, but about finding and implementing changes to put the agency back on track.

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About the Contributor
Sam Humphrey, Newsroom Manager
From starting as a staff writer to helping edit and manage the entire paper, Sam has seen every side of the Journal there is. He covered protests, changes in the school's administration, and local political events on Suffolk's campus and across the city. He graduated from the Sawyer Business School in May 2017 but his favorite memories of Suffolk are from his four years on the paper.

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MBTA needs major reforms before new revenue