5 more are fired at T over bus inspections
Inquiry is closed; 19 penalized in all
The MBTA has fired five more managers for their alleged roles in doctoring mileage records to avoid routine bus inspections, bringing to 13 the total number of employees terminated since the scheme was made public last month, T officials said yesterday.
Six others have received three-day suspensions for lesser roles, meaning 19 superintendents, supervisors, and foremen have been implicated — or more than one-fourth of the managers overseeing the 600 technicians and laborers responsible for maintaining buses that transport hundreds of thousands of riders daily.
The MBTA’s general manager, Richard A. Davey Jr., said the T has concluded a three-month investigation and officials do not anticipate more firings, barring new information. He also said the MBTA has largely caught up with the backlog that resulted from the manipulated records, which caused more than 200 buses to go as long as 35,000 miles without being checked for mechanical problems or receiving such routine maintenance as oil changes and tire rotations.
“We’ve really turned over ev ery stone, if you will, and I think we have a very good handle on what happened and new procedures in place to make sure it won’t happen again,’’ said Davey, who took over as general manager in March, midway through the internal audit and investigation. “I think the message is clear now for all of our employees that this behavior is unacceptable, and if they see it, I ask them to bring it to management’s attention for us to take action.’’
The T is advertising to fill nine of the 13 vacancies at an advertised salary of $59,697 to $88,232.
T officials have said the deferred inspections and maintenance did not cause known safety problems — in part because buses are visually inspected by drivers each day — but probably contributed to poor performance and delays on some bus routes.
In addition to the 13 who have been terminated, six other foremen received suspensions for lesser roles, such as failing to log out of the computerized maintenance system, allowing others to then manipulate records, T officials said.
Davey characterized the fired employees as a small group that perpetuated a scheme at three of the T’s nine bus facilities: Arborway, Charlestown, and Southampton Street.
But one of the fired superintendents said he and the others were taking the fall for a widely acknowledged practice in which maintenance workers put off time-consuming inspections and service because of top-down pressure to keep buses running.
“Everybody knew, everybody knew,’’ said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is contemplating legal action. “That’s the mentality, that’s the culture, that’s the way it’s been — and to fire people because that’s the way it’s been done is crazy.’’
The terminated superintendent said it was common to treat serious problems immediately but postpone preventive maintenance inspections and service — recommended by manufacturers and required by the T every 6,000 miles — should it get in the way of calls for vehicles.
The T uses about 800 of its 1,050 buses on a typical day but presses more into service when subway or commuter rail routes are shut down because of emergencies or track repairs.
A bus maintenance worker, who also heads up a group of minority employees that has challenged the T over other issues, offered a similar assessment.
“These guys are indeed the scapegoats,’’ said Terrence Ward, who works at the Arborway yard and previously worked at Southampton and who has not been disciplined in the matter. “I don’t think anybody should be let go, because it’s longstanding and it was encouraged.’’
T officials say the internal investigation did not suggest a wider problem. “We just don’t have any other evidence that others knew about it,’’ Davey said. “I mean, frankly, it’s hard for me to believe that there wasn’t someone else who knew about this, but we don’t have any evidence.’’
The T has completely upgraded its buses the past decade, creating a relatively new fleet amid a badly aging transit system, said Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, which represents cities and towns.
“After spending hundreds of millions of dollars to finally upgrade the bus fleet, it’s unconscionable that they would not keep it at optimal performance by doing routine maintenance,’’ Regan said.
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.