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November 10 2015

Updated: MBTA investigating suspicious voting on T designs

Questions have been raised about votes cast in a T poll that asked riders to pick the paint schemes for new trains.

The MBTA said it would "hold the results" of a survey on paint jobs for new T trains pending an investigation into suspicious activity in the online poll.

"The MBTA has decided to hold the results of the survey in abeyance until this matter has been resolved," MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told Metro in an email.

There were 177,338 votes over a two-week span for new paint schemes on the Green, Orange and Red lines, the T announced Tuesday.

But many of those votes may now be called into question, following skepticism voiced by Boston Globe reporter Jack Newsham about voting trends on options for the Green and Red lines, which he called in a tweet "VERY bizarre."

"IT staff has been asked to review the results," MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturu told Metro in an email. "They found evidence of some irregular voting patterns."

Pesaturo also said the T was "reaching out" to Survey Monkey, makers of the free online polling system the T used to collect votes. In an email exchange, Pesaturo would not say whether the T was considering a do-over.

RELATED: MBTA wants riders to vote on train designs

For the Red Line, a design that included a big red "T" earned 89 percent of votes, according to the T announcement. The Green Line's top pick - green trim and green paneling - had 90 percent of the vote. Compare that with the 41 percent of votes received for the winning Orange Line design, a long block of orange.

After reviewing voter data, Newsham also claimed that many voters appeared to cast their picks in "zero" seconds and that dozens of votes may have been made using just one computer.

The number of votes received in total would be an impressive feat, if true. A reported 177,338 weighed in. By comparison, 50,807 voted in the latest Boston municipal election.

Transit officials have used the poll as a chance to talk up the arrival of the new MBTA equipment, with deliveries scheduled to begin 2017-2019.

There was another oddityin Tuesday's announcement. In the release that accompanied it, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and MBTA General Manager Frank DePaola issued theexact same statements that they made when the contest launched in October, touting the benefits to riders the trains would bring.

RELATED: T could cut The Ride costs by $46 million

"The manufacture and delivery of new rail cars will go a long way to enhancing MBTA service that our customers deserve and expect,” Pollack said.

“As these new cars are introduced to the Green, Orange, and Red Line fleets, customers will experience improvements in both capacity and reliability,” DePaola said.

The first Green Line trains were scheduled to arrive in 2017, Orange Line trains in 2018 and Red Line trains in 2019. In all, 308 new trains were bound for the transit system, officials said.

The MBTA this month was running another poll with Survey Monkey, asking users to vote for their favorite from a list of transit apps — which use the T's tracking and alerts data to, among other things, tell users how late their train will be. T officials said they would promote the results to riders and encourage them to use the winning apps.

Pesaturo would not say whether officials planned to shelve the app survey.

"We are working with the makers of Survey Monkey to investigate what happened, and take steps to ensure it does not happen again," he said in an email.

When asked if the T would pursue charges against anyone who defrauded the paint job survey, Pesaturo said: "There is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing."

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