Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MBTA Operator Keolis Hit With $1.6 Million Fine

(SOURCE:  Boston Globe - By Nicole Dungca

The MBTA fined its commuter rail operator nearly $1.6 million for subpar service in January and February that left thousands of passengers stranded.

Under its contract with Keolis Commuter Services, the MBTA can issue up to $868,850 in penalties every month for late or dirty trains, and other shortcomings.

After a series of snowstorms stretching over several months crippled the transit system, the commuter rail operation took more than six weeks to recover. The company restored full service on March 30, weeks after the last major snowfall.

Keolis officials declined to comment on the fines.

Company officials had tried to invoke a provision in its contract that would have allowed the company to avoid penalties for late trains and other deficiencies because of “severe weather.” The company’s general manager at the time, Thomas Mulligan, wrote to the MBTA that four major snowstorms had made it impossible for the company to provide regular service.

Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said at the time that the MBTA had told Keolis that instead of asking for relief from the penalties, the commuter rail operator should be focusing on recovery.

But the MBTA eventually agreed with Keolis: Pesaturo on Friday said the MBTA has decided the company could not have performed up to par for several days because of the four snowstorms.

“The operating agreement includes exceptions for extraordinary events, and if the snowiest winter in the history of Boston doesn’t meet that criteria, then nothing will,” he wrote in an e-mail.

However, Pesaturo also said that the decision had no effect on the amount of the fines for late trains.

For January, the T fined Keolis $434,425 because of late trains, the maximum amount allowed under the contract. For other lapses, such as dirty trains and stations, the T fined Keolis $273,000.

For February, the T charged Keolis $434,425 in penalties for late trains, and $434,425 for other shortcomings.

Since Keolis took over as the commuter system’s operator last July, the T has assessed $4.07 million in penalties against the company.

Pesaturo said the tally for any fines from March will be available later this month.

About 80 percent of commuter rail trains ran on time last month, according to figures provided by the T. However, the figure does not include the percentage of trains that the company had canceled under a reduced schedule.

Because of complications from the severe weather, the company could not keep enough locomotives in service, so the T allowed Keolis to cancel 21 percent of its trains last month. Keolis officials said they occasionally added trains to these reduced schedules when locomotives became available.

State transportation library closed, to be replaced with digital archive

Call it the case of the missing library.

Boston, home of the oldest subway system in the country, has its fair share of transit historians and enthusiasts. For decades, they could visit a library on the second floor of the state Transportation Building in Boston to look up the minutiae of the history of subway lines, airplanes, or highway projects in Massachusetts.

Starting last summer, workers began packing up the materials from the library. But longtime fans had no idea where they were going.

“We just saw bookshelf after bookshelf disappearing,” said Stuart Spina, a 24-year-old MBTA and railway obsessive who has been going to the library regularly for a decade.

Spina assumed the Department of Transportation was going to redecorate the room. But when the books didn’t return after several months, he decided that the state agency had closed the library, Spina said.

On Friday, a Department of Transportation official said the historic materials were safely in storage. But he also confirmed that the library isn’t returning to the second floor.

“Ultimately, the contents of the library will be digitized and made publicly available,” said Michael Verseckes, a MassDOT spokesman.

The space was being “underutilized,” Verseckes said, so officials decided to make it into a training room. Verseckes said he didn’t know when the digital library would be open to the public.

Local transportation wonks will surely be upset over the library’s disappearance from the building.

An old, undated brochure cited a collection of 25,000 books and technical reports. It also had one reference that proved a particularly poignant harbinger of the library’s eventual fate, in trumpeting a high-tech gimmick called “On-line and CD-Rom searching of databases.”

In 2010, the library was renamed for the late George M. Sanborn, the longtime librarian who had become the state’s de facto dean of transit history.

Spina, who used to visit the library at least three times a week, said he hopes the documents will continue to be accessible.

“It was pretty cool to let people flip through 125-year-old documents,” he said. “It’s just not the same with a PDF.”

1,500 young riders to get discounts on T through trial-program lottery

Remember those spirited young protesters who got arrested last year in their quest for T youth discounts?

They’re finally getting their day.

Applications are open for a trial program that will offer 1,500 young people either $26 monthly passes or $7 weekly passes that offer unlimited rides on subway and bus lines.

The T offers similarly priced monthly and weekly passes to junior high and high school students, but those passes are valid only on weekdays. Standard monthly passes cost $75 and weekly passes are $19, with discounts also available for seniors and people with disabilities.

To enter a lottery for the new Youth Passes, T riders between the ages of 12 and 21, and who are residents of Boston, Chelsea, Malden, or Somerville, must apply by April 30.

In December, the T announced it would test out two new discount programs: the Youth Pass, and another partnership with local universities.

The pass program for college students is still being developed, said Pesaturo, the T spokesman.

The transit agency expects the programs to cost $696,000 in lost revenue and administrative expenses, he said.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.

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