Saturday, February 8, 2014

Taking Breakfast at T Stop

I was hungry for a Globe this morning....

"Timing is right for T riders, businesses; Commuters freed by countdown clocks give food and coffee shops a boost" by Martine Powers |  Globe Staff, February 08, 2014

Since the T introduced countdown clocks in August 2012 to tell subway riders when to expect the next train, customers have been raving. Surveys suggest a 15 percent jump in passenger satisfaction.

But businesses have been cashing in on the clocks, too: Without fretting that a train is imminent, customers are more willing to cool their heels and enjoy the wait with a cup of joe or a doughnut in hand....

It's too damn cold to be cooling heels and enjoying the wait.

The transportation agency’s records on vendor sales are too spotty to yield hard evidence that sales increases are real.

But customers who patronize the coffee shops, snack stands, and sandwich hole-in-the-walls with prime real estate inside train stations or just beyond know: Not all store owners say they’ve seen a difference....

This article taste like $hit!


I hope you like these other morsels since the last time I rode the T:

"Evaluations reveal skepticism of rail incumbent’s improvements" by Martine Powers |  Globe staff, January 25, 2014

The months-long vetting process ended with the French-owned transit firm Keolis winning the $2.68 billion contract, the largest operating contract in state history. The process was largely conducted in secret, out of sight of the public and the bidders, as evaluators were taken to an off-site location to review the competing proposals, barred from even bringing their cellphones.

The evaluations, made public more quickly after MBCR took the T to court, reveal both the process and the thinking that led to the unexpected decision to oust the incumbent contractor.

At a Massachusetts Department of Transportation board meeting earlier this month MBTA general manager Beverly A. Scott said the appeal of Keolis’s lower bid was bolstered by the good rating evaluators awarded its proposal, versus the merely acceptable rating garnered by MBCR.

When it came to MBCR the tone was not enthusiastic....


I notice there was nothing and no concern about possible connections to the Nazis that seemed to be such a big deal before the awarding of the contract!

RelatedLosing bidder for commuter rail contract to appeal

So MBCR will be able to hold onto the contract a while longer, huh?

Time to retool:

"MBTA’s new rail cars heading for a retooling; Parts will be replaced; severity of woes disputed" by Martine Powers |  Globe staff,  January 29, 2014

A long-awaited fleet of MBTA commuter rail cars, delivered 2½ years late by the South Korean manufacturer, is now so plagued by mechanical, engineering, and software problems that it has to be shipped to a facility in Rhode Island to be fitted with new parts. 

I guess the only thing that can be made with care and quality these days are bank ATMs because they are the only $y$tems that seem to work. From unemployment to this to Obummercare, it's always the same old story: $hit $oftware that will need some fixe$!

Even as a T spokesman described the problems with the cars as “standard operating procedure,” rail workers and their union representatives said the situation is unprecedented, and federal officials acknowledged they are “monitor[ing] the situation closely.”

Then this $y$tem is total $hit! This is $tandard operating procedure? 

Btw, I hate starting off the day angry, but there is nothing fun left to blog about in my Globe.

“In my 40-some years of railroad experience, we’ve never seen problems like this,” said Tom Murray, president of the local chapter of the Transport Workers Union of America. 

The T spokesman told me it is standard operating procedure.

But Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials say the problems — including issues with doors, air-conditioning, brakes, and signal software — are a normal part of introducing new, more technologically advanced train cars into a transit system.

“Railroad coaches are not like new autos that a buyer drives off the lot,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. “Modifications are made as necessary. . . . This is standard operating procedure throughout the transit industry.”

This ride $ucks.

Harry King — spokesman for Hyundai Rotem, the South Korea-based contractor that delivered the new cars 2½ years behind schedule — said the company is working to fix the problems, investing significant resources and dispatching a full-time contingent of staff to the T’s Somerville maintenance facility to solve the problems.

Why, oh, why does it have to come to that?

“These problems have either been resolved or soon will be,” he said. 

That didn't salve my anger, sorry.

The MBTA’s $190 million purchase of 75 commuter rail cars from Hyundai Rotem USA was controversial from the start, as T officials in 2008 insisted that the lowest bidder would be able to deliver good-quality cars on time, even though the company had yet to open an assembly plant in the United States.

After T officials’ consternation over what they called “chronically unsatisfactory performance,” threats to cancel the order, and a visit to executives in South Korea, the first cars arrived last spring.

Since then, T officials have insisted publicly that the cars were delivered in fine working order, pleasing customers with nice interiors and comfortable seats. At least 56 of the cars have been delivered, with the rest set to arrive by this summer, and T officials say 32 of the cars have been put into service.

At a Massachusetts Department of Transportation board meeting in November, MBTA general manager Beverly A. Scott said she gave the cars “a 7.5 or an 8” out of 10 but said the problems — a minor toilet issue, for example — were few and fairly mundane. 

I don't find anything to do with toilets minor issues.

“Probably the stuff wouldn’t be noticeable to anybody but us,” Scott told the MassDOT board of directors.


But employees who work on the commuter rail cars say they are rife with problems, ranging from faulty heating and air-conditioning units and door motors to poorly constructed undercarriages and problems with brakes and the software that controls signal communication in the cab of the train. Some of the problems have surfaced in tests, and some continued to exist after the cars were put in service, MBTA officials said....

Those seem like kind of important glitches.

Some of the mechanical problems have caused enough concern that the head of the local chapter of the Transport Workers Union sent a letter in December to state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey requesting a meeting to alert officials of “many operational problems [that] have been encountered with this equipment.”


Commuter rail workers acknowledge that the new cars are much more technologically advanced, but said that did not explain all of the problems they have seen.

“When a car is 35 years old, you’re going to have these kinds of things break down,” said a commuter rail electrical worker who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly. “You should not have that kind of issue on something that is 35 days old.”

Not everyone agrees that the issues are as serious as the rail workers say.

Alan G. Macdonald, a member of the MassDOT board, said the complaints from workers may be exaggerated.

“My understanding is that there is some work that still needs to be done, but it might not be unexpected that there will be problems with the cars,” Macdonald said....


Sound of me hitting the brakes.

But Jonathan H. Klein, a former chief mechanical officer at Amtrak and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, said taking the cars out of service to replace major parts at an out-of-state facility is a different order of magnitude.

“If cars have to be taken wholesale back to another factory site for reworking, it is a definite sign that the manufacturer has lost control of its quality, its configuration and safety management, and its delivery organization, or all three,” Klein said.

“The T made an obvious mistake in awarding a contract to Rotem,” Klein said.

Another mi$take that costs austerity-strapped taxpayers how much?!

In Philadelphia, officials at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority have experienced similar problems with the 120 cars they received from Hyundai Rotem between 2009 to 2013....

Once is an error, twice is a pattern of intent.

Almost all the issues have been resolved, except for....

Time to close the door on that article since they won't open(?) anyway.


Time to retire:

"MBTA retirement fund sues auditor over $25m loss" by Beth Healy |  Globe Staff, January 24, 2014

The MBTA retirement fund is suing the national auditing firm Grant Thornton and two other service companies over its losses on a $25 million investment recommended to the fund by its former executive director.

The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, blames the pension fund’s loss in a Fletcher Asset Management hedge fund on firms it alleges should have identified that Fletcher was not investing the money as promised.

The Fletcher hedge funds, operated by the New York-based firm, are bankrupt and under investigation by federal authorities for running a suspected Ponzi scheme. The MBTA pension fund has lost its entire $25 million investment in the Fletcher fund, as previously reported by the Globe.

See: White Makes T See Red

The MBTA alleges in the complaint that Grant Thornton, New York-based auditor EisnerAmpner, and a San Francisco asset valuation firm, Quantal International Inc., failed to properly audit and value the holdings in the hedge fund.

Grant Thornton denied any wrongdoing in its work for the Fletcher fund. “We are confident that our work complied with all professional standards and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves,” the company said in a statement Friday.

Neither of the other defendants was available for comment Friday.

The lawsuit does not name Fletcher Asset Management as a defendant. But T officials have not ruled out legal action against the investment firm.

The $1.6 billion MBTA pension fund was the sole investor in Fletcher’s Fixed Income Alpha fund.

Then it was a rip-off scheme right from the start!

The investment was sold to the pension fund by its former executive director, Karl E. White, nine months after he left the helm of the retirement fund for a job at Fletcher....


Let's see the books!

"MBTA retirement board split on airing records; Debate on status of pension fund" by Beth Healy |  Globe Staff, February 03, 2014

Directors loyal to the Patrick administration are pitted against union representatives on the secretive MBTA retirement board in a new conflict over an old question: whether state law compels them to reveal information about the management of the $1.6 billion pension fund.

In this latest episode, the three board members aligned with Governor Deval Patrick favor making records public, and the three union representatives do not.

Damn unions!

The six-member board has long guarded the fund’s status as a private trust, despite millions of dollars in taxpayer backing. They have rebuffed legal and political pressure over two decades to adopt the same ethical and disclosure rules that apply to other pension funds for public workers.

But recently — in the wake of a law passed last summer requiring the MBTA pension fund to be subject to public records law — the board split, three to three, on whether to withhold records about the fund.

Three directors backed by T management and Patrick voted to release information sought by the Globe and others, according to officials from the T and the state Department of Transportation. But three other members representing the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589 effectively blocked the disclosure.

That sent the tie-breaking decision to an “honorary member” — attorney Katherine Hesse — and she voted against disclosure, according to representatives for the T and transportation department.

The union members then voted to seek a “judicial determination” on whether they are required to follow the law passed last summer.

The union members did not respond to repeated requests for comment. In the past they have said that public disclosure does not benefit their members.

State Senator William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat who cochairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Service, will hold an oversight hearing Feb. 25 on the MBTA’s investment loss and its failure to follow the disclosure law. Brownsberger was one of the authors of that measure.

“Most public pension funds across the country abide by strict ethics rules and it’s about time ours did, too,’’ said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a group that advocates for government reform. “Here you have an agency managing public employee retirement funds, with public funds. They should abide by the same rules in order to protect the integrity of the fund and confidence in their independence.”

Once government gets our money they think it is there money!

The records sought by the Globe involve a controversial $25 million investment that became worthless in a suspected Ponzi scheme. The investment was recommended to the board by its former executive director, Karl White, who had joined a New York hedge fund months earlier.

Under typical state ethics rules, White would have been barred from pitching his former colleagues on an investment in his new firm for at least a year.

The Fletcher Asset Management hedge fund that White sold to the pension fund is now bankrupt. Federal authorities and the Massachusetts attorney general are investigating. But the pension fund had disclosed none of the saga to its members or the public, merely omitting the 2007 Fletcher fund from its listed investments in a 2011 annual report.

Ever since the problem came to light, no officials or directors of the pension fund have been willing to be interviewed. A spokesman for the fund, Steve Crawford, has said officials are cooperating with authorities to try to recoup the lost money.

But when the Globe asked for records after the Fletcher loss — information that would be public at other state or municipal pension funds — the MBTA fund refused to release them.

The governor, attorney general, and transportation officials urged the retirement fund to open its records. Administration officials rarely comment on the T retirement board’s actions. But in a sign of the growing fissure between the two sides, MassDOT spokeswoman Cyndi Roy-Gonzalez said, “The management appointees support the law that was passed by the Legislature last year.’’

Board members on both sides did not return calls or declined to comment. Those who voted not to release records are relying on a 1993 ruling by the state’s highest court that said the fund, as a private trust, is not subject to state oversight.

The retirement board’s lawyer, Carl Valvo, said union representatives are not convinced the new law supersedes the 1993 case, in which the Globe was also seeking records.

In the meantime, Brownsberger said he was heartened to hear that three members of the T’s pension board had voted “to do the right thing.”

Those three include the chairwoman, union organizer Janice Loux; Darnell Williams, chief executive of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts; and Jonathan Davis, the T’s deputy general manager and chief financial officer. 


Hyatt's Hijinks
Hyatt Helps Unemployed Housekeepers
Who Stays At the Hyatt?
Taking the T Home

You are lucky to get those links.

Directors representing the union members are Carmen’s union officials James O’Brien and James Evers, as well as James O’Connell, originally elected to represent the non-Local 589 workers.



Report urges state to fire T’s pension directors
Hearing set on MBTA pension loss, lack of transparency

Do you know how they are going to replenish the fund as well as continue endle$$ debt interest payments for the Big Pit? 

"RMV fees may rise 10 percent" by Martine Powers |  Globe Staff, January 30, 2014

State officials will seek to raise Registry of Motor Vehicles fees by 10 percent on July 1 to fill a $53 million gap in the state Department of Transportation’s operating budget next year.

Even with new funding alloted for transportation needs in a law passed last summer, MassDOT must still come up with additional money to pay for one of the stipulations outlined in that law — that the agency stop paying employee salaries on credit and instead start including the pay in the department’s yearly operating budget.

It’s a more fiscally responsible practice in the long run, explained Dana Levenson, MassDOT’s chief financial officer, at the department’s board of directors meeting Wednesday. But in the short run, MassDOT officials must figure out how to find the money for the new yearly expense.

“We are limited in what we have available,” Levenson said. RMV fee increases, he continued, “is the only place we have to go to close the gap.”

Yeah, heaven help any government that tells banks and other investors to shove the debt-interest payments each month. 

Related: My Baby Takes the Late Night Train 

Where did he find that $20 million again

Sure hope the sandwich shop is open at that hour.

The T already plans to raise fares by 5 percent this summer — the maximum increase allowed under the new law — and some argue that the state’s rising transportation costs have been unfairly borne by users of public transportation. Increases in highway tolls would not fill the gap because the money collected from tolls must be used for road maintenance.

And the RMV might be due for fee hikes: Many of the fees incurred most often by customers have not increased since 2008. The price of vehicle inspections has not changed in 15 years, Levenson said.

And if there’s one thing MassDOT officials learned last year, it’s that they shouldn’t expect an increase in the gas tax index this year.

“We’ve heard from the public that they don’t like gas tax increasesloud and clear,” said Alan G. Macdonald, a member of the MassDOT board of directors....

Didn't that transportation deal raise the gas tax?

"The transportation finance legislation that passed last summer raised the gas tax by 3 cents and pegged it to inflation."

You heard us, but the you weren't li$tening, liar!!!!


Also see:

Man, 34, is charged in Haymarket Station robbery
Forest Hill’s white elephant of a bus yard

I would stay out of those areas if I were you.

Proposal would rename South Station after Dukakis
South Station: Give Michael Dukakis his due

I gave those stories all the attention they were due. 

Time to continue my travels in the Boston Globe:

"Two scientists at Michigan Technological University decided to search for evidence of time travel by scouring search engines and social media sites for evidence of “prescient content”— references to notable news events before those events could have been known."

All you need do is pick up an agenda-pushing paper from the propaganda pre$$. You don't need a bell for that.