BOSTON (State House News Service) — The executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board on Thursday gave T overseers an earful, telling the Board of Directors that MBTA host communities are concerned that the agency won't be able to pay for, hire enough new workers for and actually follow through on its plan to redraw the system's bus map over the next five years.
Brian Kane, who leads the group that represents the 176 municipalities that host a T station or abut one that does, raised several issues with the T's bus network redesign project, which was approved to move forward last fall.
"As this board has rightly pointed out in the past, implementing bus network redesign will not be cheap. Your communities are concerned that the authority may not be able to afford to implement it in the future or that implementing it might require defunding or cutting service elsewhere," Kane said.
He said municipalities are also worried that the T won't be able to hire the additional 400 bus operators that the plan contemplates, pointing to a story in Thursday's Boston Globe that the T actually has fewer drivers than a year ago despite a concerted hiring effort, leaving it about 350 drivers short of what it needs for the current system.
"There's real concerns that this simply can't be achieved," he said of the hiring that would be needed to support the new bus network.
And even if the T could hire enough drivers and pay for implementation of the new bus system, Kane said that cities and towns don't have faith that the MBTA would be able to actually run the increased bus service reliably given that recent data show that 27 percent of MBTA bus trips were late as of last Friday.
"I think it's reasonable to ask how can cities and towns and the public reasonably expect you to increase bus service by 25 percent when you're finding it difficult at best right now to manage what's already out there, especially in terms with your operator shortages, your dispatcher shortages and your other staff shortages," he said. "And we're not being overly critical here. I think folks have genuine concerns about what's going to happen."
MBTA officials and board members stressed to Kane that their vote last fall was to begin the process and that, as Interim General Manager Jeff Gonneville put it, "we recognize that this is going to be a process to kind of continue to work forward and work through."
Written by Colin A. Young/SHNS