Another way to increase that communication with the riders is an immediate work order process that they are currently working on. There will soon be an application that will allow customers to provide feedback on the physical state of the MBTA. “Is the light bulb out at the station? Does the trash need to be picked up somewhere? Is a poster out of date? Is there graffiti somewhere?” Davey asks. “Just take a picture, email it to us, an immediate work order is generated and our crews go out and fix it.”
It’s an idea he says they “stole” from the city of Boston that already does this. He is excited that this is another way that they are leveraging technology to improve the customer’s experience on the T.
Opening the T’s data is also something they are very excited about at the agency. About 18 months ago, they released the data of five buses to the public. “We turned to the public to help us and they did. Huge,” Davey says. “All we did is release data we had.”
He said there was some initial reluctance to share data, “but it has been nothing but a home run. A grand slam.”
They started with the five buses and now it’s open to all 184 bus routes. He says, “We immediately released information for our red, blue and orange lines, our heavy rail lines; that is out there now too.”
About the apps, Davey says, “It’s been, particularly for our customers that use the bus, really a seminal moment in how they interact with us, how they’re able to get information in real time to know, is the bus two minutes away or is the bus 20 minutes away?
“We’re giving them back 18 minutes of their life.”
Bringing an Agency Up to Date
The second day I was at the T was the board meeting with the budget vote. Davey says once they get through fiscal ’12, they have to really start thinking about fiscal ’13. “Over the next few years, how do we continue to service, continue to support the expansions that the state’s paying for and then think about ridership growth, too.” He adds, “Those are some of the things we’re focused on.”
He explains, “Over the next few years, though, as debt continues to grow, our debt payments continue to grow, will continue to grow until about 2016-2017 and then it will begin to decline.
“The T has, per capita, the largest debt in the U.S. in terms of transit agencies.” He adds, “That’s what’s gone on in the past but we’re really paying for that now.”
Trying to find a way to pay for all of the necessary and good projects out there is a primary concern. Davey quickly adds that any project that has any safety issue whatsoever, is funded. He stresses, “We do not run anything that’s unsafe.”
The budget passed without raising fares or cutting service. Because of coming out of recession, they felt it was important as a policy matter that they’re seeing job growth, particularly in the Boston area, that this is not the time to be asking for additional fares or to be cutting service.
There was in increase in ridership in 2010 and there are a number of strategies to close the gap with some new, one-time revenue sources, such as selling some non-core assets, being more creative in their advertising program and not filling budget vacancies. “We’re really doing anything we can,” Davey says. “No stone is unturned.”
Lack of finances is also impacting the aging fleet. “The T has not purchased a new locomotive since 1988,” Davey says. Last July the T authorized a purchase for 20 new locomotives, about a $120M contract. They expect to receive the new locomotives in 2013. In the meantime, they can not wait he says.
“We needed to find other means to get us locomotives. 50 percent of all of the delays in commuter rail are because of locomotives. 50 percent.” He stresses, “If we solve that problem, that’s a huge reliability improvement for our customers.”
The T scoured the country to find passenger locomotives that were available. They purchased two locomotives from Utah. They’re opening a commuter rail line in 2014 and had bought locomotives ahead of time so the T bought two of them.
“We’re currently negotiating to lease a handful more that we would give back to them before they open their line in 2014,” Davey explains. “And the other piece that we did very recently is lease locomotives from Maryland, MARC.
“Those were rebuilt in 1995 and they’re not new but we like to call them new-er, relative to our fleet.” He says, “We have three, we expect to get maybe two more and we’ll put those in the fleet as well, so that’s huge.