Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called on the MBTA Monday to delay the fare hike set to take hold next month until repairs to the Red Line are made in the wake of the derailment last week that strained the system and frustrated riders.
“There should be no fare increase until the Red Line is fixed,” Walsh wrote in a Tweet. “The MBTA must act with urgency and it’s unfair to ask riders to pay more until the Red Line is fully operational.”
There should be no fare increase until the Red Line is fixed.
The @MBTA must act with urgency and it's unfair to ask riders to pay more until the Red Line is fully operational.
— Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) June 17, 2019
But the call to postpone or forgo the anticipated, nearly 6 percent increase was promptly dismissed at an MBTA board meeting Monday, as officials recounted and dissected known details of the derailment amid an ongoing investigation.
“I’m not quite sure what the correct response is to that yet,” said Joseph Aiello, chairman of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board. “The broader fare increase, I think, is too much of a blunt instrument to roll back at this point.”
Regular Red Line service resumed Sunday after the southbound train derailed on June 11, just outside of JFK/UMass station, causing significant damage to nearby signal equipment. But Walsh’s words came as service remained slow Monday and officials warned riders should give themselves at least 20 extra minutes for their commutes heading into Tuesday morning.
‘We have to have a level of empathy’
Whether the MBTA should move forward with the approved fare hike on July 1 was briefly a topic of discussion during Monday’s meeting, the first since last week’s incident.
Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan, also a member of the state Department of Transportation’s Board of Directors, offered that the MBTA consider some sort of relief for South Shore riders.
Derailments erode public confidence in the safety of the system, he said.
“I just think that there has to be some recognition to the ridership in terms of what happened here,” he said. “There’s a level of frustration that we have to appreciate. We have to have a level of empathy, and we have to have a level of, quite frankly, support to the ridership to have … the public understand we’re working on this earnestly.”
The roughly 6 percent increase, approved in March, is the first fare hike in three years. The bump is expected to generate about $30 million for the MBTA.
State Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack also advised against withholding the increase.
“That doesn’t mean there isn’t a correct gesture,” she said.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Sullivan said some sort of gesture is needed, though he’s not certain what form it could take.
“This was a significant issue,” he said. “This past week was a very difficult one for residents of the South Shore and we need to be responsive to that.”
In a separate tweet on Monday, Walsh voiced his own frustrations with the system. He wrote Boston “is most impacted by the failures of the MBTA” — and city residents pay the price.
“It’s our residents, our workers & our commuters who feel the pain. Yet we do not have a seat at the table when decisions about the T are made,” he wrote.
Boston is most impacted by the failures of the @MBTA.
It's our residents, our workers & our commuters who feel the pain. Yet we do not have a seat at the table when decisions about the T are made.
I'm calling on the @MBTA to reinstate a local seat on the oversight board.
— Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) June 17, 2019
What we know about the derailment investigation
Questions about what exactly happened have been left lingering nearly a week after the derailment.
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said investigators have ruled out operational error, foul play, and issues with the track infrastructure as possible causes, and have now turned their attention to inspecting the Red Line car itself.
In the meantime, crews have repaired broken sections of the third rail and tracks, but are continuing to work on three signal bungalows that were significantly damaged, he said.
According to Poftak, the car that derailed was manufactured and first put in service in 1969 and was overhauled in the late 1980s, with additional upgrades to its wheels made in 2014. It was generally inspected monthly, with its last inspection on May 3.
“As this investigation continues we will obviously work closely with our state and federal regulators to take whatever actions are necessary to ensure we uphold the safety of the system,” he said.
The MBTA has brought on LTK Engineering Services to study all of the system’s derailments in the last two years with the aim to have a draft report in hand in 45 days and a final copy in 90, Poftak said.
According to Poftak, the agency has accelerated its plans for ultrasound inspections that were scheduled for this year for its entire fleet. The MBTA usually carries out the review once every two years, in addition to its regular visual inspections, he said.
The Fiscal and Management Control Board is also organizing a review of the safety procedures on the system’s rail lines independent of the MBTA, Aiello said. The study will focus on “very, very granular” aspects while comparing best practices with other agencies, he said.
A team of national experts will be assembled for the undertaking in the coming week, he said.