Coddling Keolis Makes Cancellations Spike Even Harder to Swallow

What good are fines if you won't impose them?

This fall saw one of the worst patches of commuter rail cancellations since the winter of 2015—the snowiest in Boston history—brought the MBTA to a standstill. This does not fit into T officials’ narrative of Baker-led reform in the blizzard’s wake.

Keolis Commuter Services, the T’s Paris-based commuter rail operator, canceled 222 trains between September and November, the Globe reports, up from just 51 during the same span last year. October’s 81 canceled trains were the highest total since February 2015, when nearly 65 inches of snow fell on Boston and only about 35 percent of trains ran on time.

Keolis was slapped with a fine for each late or canceled train, totaling $1.7 million for its lousy service in February and March. When the operator tried avoiding the fines, citing the “severity of the issues that we were facing,” a spokesperson for Gov. Charlie Baker said Keolis ought to “focus its energy on restoring full service to the commuter rail as soon as possible.”

But the tough talk ended there. Seven months later, the MBTA quietly forgave $839,000, never publicly disclosing the decision to waive the fee until the Globe obtained a November 2015 letter. (Both Keolis and the MBTA declined the Globe‘s interview requests.)

In light of the latest rash of canceled trains, acting GM Brian Shortsleeve revved up the no-excuses, zero-tolerance posturing, that “no cancellation is acceptable” on the commuter rail. But this is hardly the message the T sent when it ripped up nearly half of Keolis’ fines for stranding commuters in a blizzard—or when it decided to give Keolis $66 million more than it originally agreed to over the next six years.

Frustrated commuters scattered along the purlieus of the Fairmount Line, which has experienced more than twice as many cancellations as any other line since Keolis took over service in 2014, must be wondering if anyone will be held responsible for subpar performance this time around—or, in a scant few months, the MBTA will roll over and call it square.