Last week, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce (GBCC), Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), and the MBTA Advisory Board published their first annual Accountability Report to assess the MBTA’s progress toward the goals set in the MBTA Strategic Plan, which was developed by the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) in 2017.
The 2019 Accountability Report shows that the MBTA is making progress in accomplishing some of its goals, such as taking steps to stabilize the operating budget, but it is also expecting significant challenges in the year ahead.
The FMCB itself promised that 2019 would be a “turning-point” year when customers will see results from the first three years of work towards goals identified in the Strategic Plan. This year, the MBTA will shift from planning to project implementation, and there is much at stake. Several projects, such as doubling its annual capital investment, implementing expanded accessibility, and addressing climate vulnerability, face significant obstacles and are at risk of falling behind schedule.
Some key goals examined in the report include:
Goals that are complete
- Develop integrated fleet procurement and replacement plan - The MBTA created the Integrated Fleet and Facilities Plan (IFFP), which provides a framework for restoring buses, trains, ferries, and maintenance facilities to a state of good repair within 15 years while also increasing capacity to meet the future demand.
Goals that are on track
- Create a new Automated Fare Collection system - In 2018, the MBTA finalized a 13-year contract for the design, implementation, and operations of AFC 2.0 and is scheduled to implement an upgraded system by 2021.
- Reinvent the Bus System - This work is occurring as part of the Better Bus Project, which is scheduled to simplify the bus network in 2019 and implement increased service in 2020 and later.
Goals that are progressing but face significant obstacles
- Eliminate reliance on annual appropriation for operating support - In fiscal year 2018, the MBTA balanced its budget for the first time in 10 years. However, the MBTA is projecting a $36.5 million deficit for fiscal year 2019. Furthermore, the MBTA continues to face fiscal challenges – most notably a growing pension liability – that it will need to address in future years to avoid returning to large structural deficits on an annual basis.
- Eliminate SGR backlog in 15 years - The MBTA’s Capital Investment Plan requires a drastic investment increase. To meet its five-year, $8 billion Capital Investment Plan the MBTA must double its capital investment from an annual average of $767 million from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2018 to an annual average of over $1.6 billion from fiscal year 2019 though fiscal year 2023.
Goals that are behind schedule
- Develop and begin implementation of strategy for expanding accessibility - A comprehensive update on the PATI plan is expected at the end of the first quarter of 2019, slightly behind the target goal. Draft recommendations are in use to inform capital decisions.
- Develop a plan for targeted interventions to address vulnerability of assets and services to climate and weather stressors - The MBTA considers climate resiliency as a factor when making capital investment decisions, but the MBTA currently lacks one vulnerability plan.
The GBCC, CLF and MBTA Advisory Board will publish the next Accountability Report in the first quarter of 2020. The report will focus on major initiatives, including achieving stability in the operating budget and executing the $8 billion, five-year capital plan. The three organizations will hold the MBTA accountable to its goals by examining progress on an updated MBTA Strategic Plan, a capital planning review, new Red and Orange Line car deliveries, the Better Bus Project, and a future governance structure following the FMCB termination in 2020.