Acknowledging following a tumultuous month that a series of security improvements were not “enough,” MBTA chief executive Steve Poftak said on Tuesday that the company’s long-term financial outlook agency remained strained and hinted that federal dollars could eliminate the need to rush. a solution.
Poftak told WBUR’s “Radio Boston” that the massive amount of COVID-19 stimulus funding T received during the pandemic will help cushion the agency for about two more years, until fiscal 2024.
This could save time for state lawmakers, who in recent months have shown virtually no interest in addressing the structural finance issues plaguing the MBTA long before the COVID-19 pandemic reduced ridership and who are choosing sometimes to tackle thorny problems only when a crisis strikes. .
“We need to solve some kind of deficit in the operating budget, but we have a few years to figure it out,” Poftak said. “On the capital side, we have sources for the capital budget identified for this year and the next few years. In the longer term, we will need to identify new sources of capital funding.
A couple from Rhode Island first spoke about their experience with an escalator malfunction in 2011 that was similar to what happened this weekend at the same station. NBC10 Boston investigators have uncovered dozens of incidents in the Boston area where people were injured at T stations.
Internal and external estimates indicate that the MBTA’s financial woes will become potent, with budget variances of hundreds of millions of dollars a year, once it depletes its roughly $ 2 billion in emergency federal aid.
One of the factors behind this tension is the muddy traffic forecast.
Before the pandemic, tariff revenue typically represented about a third of the operating dollars the MBTA brought in each year. Poftak said on Tuesday ridership had returned to about 60% of pre-COVID levels on buses, 45% on the subway and 40% on the commuter rail network.
MBTA officials expected ridership to remain depleted for several years, and Poftak said they were faced with an “open question” of how office reopening would affect travel patterns.
“Are they going to come back five days a week or will they come back on some sort of hybrid schedule? I feel like this will be the last,” he said.
A series of incidents on the MBTA in recent weeks, including an escalator malfunction at Back Bay station that injured several travelers and a red line derailment, has generated new calls for the government of l State increases its investment in the besieged agency.
Another red line derailment is the latest in a series of problems the MBTA has recently encountered, with calls for change growing.
Poftak praised the T’s efforts over the past few years to increase capital spending, which covers modernization, maintenance and extensions. Last year, he said, the MBTA spent $ 1.93 billion in these areas, about five times more than a decade earlier.
But with an estimated cost of $ 10 billion to replace all obsolete equipment and infrastructure in the MBTA, Poftak also warned that getting more results would take time.
“We are facing decades of underinvestment,” said Poftak. “One or two years of this extraordinary level won’t be enough. We’re going to have to do it for a while.”
Governor Charlie Baker, whose administration oversees the MBTA, has touted his efforts to speed up capital spending at T. Following the recent spate of incidents, Baker said “the MBTA is safe.”
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Investigators have not determined the cause of the Sept. 28 Red Line derailment that damaged the platform at Broadway station. An investigation into the malfunction of the escalator is also underway, and although Poftak said he was certified after an inspection on July 31, he said he could not speak in much more detail about the matter. due to a dispute.
A Green Line trolley crash this summer also highlighted the slow pace of MBTA’s implementation of anti-collision technology that had been recommended as early as 2008. Poftak said the feature should be ready by now. 2024, noting a “complicated process” behind the scenes to balance safety features with the need to run trains frequently.
“The distance between the initial recommendation and the implementation is longer than we would have liked,” said Poftak. “The green line, because you have two-car sets, you have a lot more trains on the system as opposed to the red, orange, and blue lines, where you have fewer trains but they have more cars. So, in fact, developing a system that works for the Green Line and meets that security imperative has taken a long time. “
He defended the T for working on addressing security concerns, an area an external panel flagged as a concern when it concluded in December 2019 that financial crunch, fear of retaliation and a “deflated feeling” “among the leaders made security a priority.
“We have worked to build a stronger safety culture,” Poftak told WBUR. “We go over the security hotline issues every morning with our management team, but it is clear that this is not enough. There is still work to be done. I think there is no one there. to the MBTA who thinks we’re done. We need to do more work to make this system as secure as possible. “