Transit Briefs: MBTA; Miami-Dade, Fla.; NYMTAWritten by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
A Massachusetts lawmaker eyes structural changes at Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Also, the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) in Miami-Dade, Fla., launches an ambassador program; and MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) unveils its first dedicated customer service centers.
The Boston Herald on Feb. 7 reported that Massachusetts State Rep. William Straus (10th Bristol) has filed two bills that, if approved, would transfer MBTA’s commuter rail operations to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s rail and transit division (except for the Fairmont Line) and the ferry to a new regional port authority, “a political subdivision of the commonwealth created for the purpose of providing water transportation services.” MBTA would continue to oversee subway, bus and Fairmont commuter rail operations.
The move stems from a recommendation made in a report by the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Transportation, which “was tasked with holding [MBTA] oversight hearings after the FTA [Federal Transit Administration] launched its safety management inspection of the T, which was prompted by a fatality on the Red Line**.”
Straus, the House chair of the committee, told the newspaper: “My goal is to have a smaller T, which is then allowed to focus on its core mission. So, it would be buses and subway in the immediate Boston metro area, and that core mission is to safely get people back and forth throughout the day. A more targeted, less-broad-missioned T, I think, benefits everybody in the state on a number of different levels.”
The Boston Herald reported Straus saying that aside from Philadelphia “‘almost everywhere else’ in the United States views its commuter rail differently from its closed-in metropolitan-area subway system, and has distinct oversight and governance for both.”
According to Straus, the newspaper noted, “the MassDOT secretary of transportation made the decision to hire Keolis Commuter Services as the MBTA’s commuter rail operator, despite that decision technically being made within the T, by the general manager.”
According to the paper, Straus added that “he doesn’t want to see capital needs for the subway system ‘in direct competition’ with commuter rail, particularly with electrification of its diesel-powered fleet looming.’”
The Framingham Source on Jan. 22 reported that Massachusetts State Sen. Brendan P. Crighton (Third Essex District) filed legislation (SD.1190) that would require MBTA and its commuter rail contractor to “operate a fully electric commuter rail system by December 31, 2035 [in Massachusetts] and ensure sufficient zero-emission infrastructure is in place to accomplish said timeline.” Crighton is also chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation.
** Further Reading:
Second FTA Safety Probe Targets MBTA
FTA Issues Safety Directives to MBTA
FTA to MBTA: Additional Safety Changes Needed
How MBTA Coped During Partial Shutdowns
CITT on Feb. 6 officially launched an ambassador program to establish “a proactive, systematic way of capturing transit riders’ feedback in exchange for mobility rewards.” Frequent riders of Metrorail, Metromover and Metrobus can apply to be part of the volunteer program, according to CITT, a 15-member body created to oversee the People’s Transportation Plan funded with the half-penny sales surtax. Each time an ambassador fills out a survey accessed and submitted via an online app, shares eligible transportation information on social media, or participates in focus groups, they will receive rewards. Rewards are earned in the form of Velos, or points, that can be used for transit passes, discounts on Uber and Lyft rides, and scooter rentals, for example. (Miami-Dade Department of Transportation & Public Works employees are ineligible to serve as ambassadors.)
“As the independent Trust charged with overseeing how half-penny Surtax funds are invested in transportation projects, the CITT Ambassador Program helps to augment our efforts as good stewards of the County’s Surtax funds and helps us monitor the state of our transit assets,” CITT Chair Oscar J. Braynon said.
“I believe firmly that our community members are experts, and that their input is critical to inform and shape our government priorities and policies,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. “Through this program, we’ll be able to have our most frequent transit riders share with us their ideas for improving our transit services.”
New York MTA on Feb. 7 launched three customer service centers featuring an agent window with OMNY functionality, digital monitors displaying service status updates, MetroCard vending machines, and online kiosks for riders to access MTA websites. They are located at the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue, Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center and 161 Street-Yankee Stadium stations. Twelve additional centers throughout the five boroughs will be opening over the course of 2023 (St. George; 34th Street–Penn Station; Flushing–Main Street; Fulton Street; Myrtle–Wyckoff Avenues; 74th Street–Jackson Heights–Roosevelt Avenue; East 180th Street; 125th Street; Fordham Road; Times Square–42nd Street; Sutphin Boulevard–Archer Avenue–JFK Airport; and 168th Street.)
The centers, first announced in December, will be staffed by station agents 24/7 and offer services historically provided exclusively at 3 Stone Street in Lower Manhattan. The centers will comprise “repurposed booths and new retail outlets and feature enhanced accessibility, OMNY technology, and a dedicated, more welcoming visual presentation for customers through new lighting, branded wrapping, and canopies,” according to MTA.
“It drove me crazy when I found out that many transactions could only be done at the Stone Street facility next to MTA HQ in Lower Manhattan,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber, who opened the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue station with MTA acting Chief Customer Officer Shanifah Rieara, MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo, and MTA NYCT President Richard Davey. “That may be convenient for MTA staff, but it’s not for our customers. We are determined to bring service closer to riders in every borough and opening the first 15 Customer Service Centers is a big step in that direction.”
“Along with bringing station agents out of the booths, these centers will make transit more convenient and accessible for customers, especially as we encourage riders to tap and go with OMNY,” said Shanifah Rieara. “We believe in bringing customer service into the communities riders live and work in, by the end of the year, customers will be able to access these services at 15 stations in all five boroughs.”