MBTA in hot water with FTAWritten by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities have been called out by the Federal Transit Administration for safety violations.
To improve safety for the Greater Boston Area’s rail transit system, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued a series of special directives to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the state agency responsible for safety oversight of the MBTA’s rail transit operations.
A special directive is an order from the Federal government that requires an FTA-regulated transit agency or oversight organization to take immediate action on safety issues within a specific period. The special directives being issued today—four of which are being issued to the MBTA and one to the DPU—are a result of the FTA’s safety management inspection of the MBTA that began April 14, 2022, following several incidents that resulted in one fatality and several injuries to passengers and employees on MBTA’s transit rail systems. These special directives require the MBTA, the MBTA Board of Directors, and the DPU to work together to remedy safety concerns and improve the MBTA’s safety culture.
“Safety is our number one priority and must be the primary focus for the MBTA and the DPU,” said FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez. “Every transit passenger deserves a safe ride. Every transit worker deserves a safe workplace. The MBTA must immediately take action to improve its safety procedures for its passengers and workers.”
FTA underscores that transit riders in the Boston area should not interpret the special directives issued today as a reason to avoid the MBTA subway or light rail. Rather, FTA’s actions provide system-wide measures to fix longstanding issues with the agency’s overall safety program and culture.
The four special directives issued to the MBTA concern:
- Operating Control Center staffing;
- General safety operating procedures;
- Delayed critical maintenance; and
- Lapses in staff safety certifications.
Each directive includes specific timeframes – ranging from 24 hours to 35 days — for the MBTA to provide responses and take actions.
The directive to the DPU affirms the need for the agency to enforce the special directives to the MBTA and address outstanding safety issues from FTA’s most recent audit of the DPU. The audit, conducted in October 2019, resulted in sixteen findings, of which seven remain open. Those findings concern:
- hazard management;
- accident investigations;
- corrective action plans;
- and rules compliance.
FTA will provide technical assistance both to the DPU to enhance its enforcement role, and to the MBTA to help address the agency’s safety issues.
FTA’s actions direct the two agencies to adopt system-wide measures to fix longstanding issues with the MBTA’s overall safety program and safety culture, including involvement of the members of the MBTA’s Board of Directors, who are the ultimate decision-makers for the agency, along with leadership of the DPU.
FTA issued the directives as part of its oversight role and to continue to ensure transit remains the safest mode of surface transportation. FTA’s Public Transportation Safety Program regulation lays out the agency’s authority and process for overseeing and supporting transit safety, including issuing special directives.
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