The Unsung Heroes of the MBTA

It’s bloodsport in these parts to complain about the MBTA. But the latest MBTA scorecard makes one thing clear — the operations staff is doing a close to miraculous job keeping the system running in the face of massive deferred maintenance and dwindling equipment options.

The Green Line is a prime example — in June 2011, their vehicles traveled an average of 3,663 miles between breakdowns, 33 percent below their goal. That’s just under 146 round-trips on the Riverside Line between failures. And the failures are having an impact; there was only one extra vehicle above the required 150 available in June.

The commuter rail has a similar issue, with just enough locomotives to provide service. Part of that is undoubtedly driven by the high failure rate — roughly every 5,000 miles against a goal of 10,200 miles. At an average route length of 30 miles, that’s just a little more than 83 round-trips between failures.

Unlike the above lines with just enough capacity, the Orange Line is operating without enough vehicles at this point. It needs 103 cars to operate properly but only had 97 in June. Somehow, the line is still running most of its scheduled runs, but their on-time performance is only at 92 percent.

We are reaping the fruits of a generation of underinvestment in maintenance. And our desire for expansion of the system has saddled the MBTA with a level of debt that is likely unsustainable. These problems are the fault of politicians and managers. What goes largely unnoticed is the work of the MBTA’s operations staff in keeping the MBTA running with scant resources.


Crossposted at Pioneer Institute’s blog.