MBTA awards multi-billion dollar commuter rail contract to new transportation company
After three hours of public discussion and one instance of fainting, the MassDOT Board of Directors on Wednesday unanimously voted to hand over the reigns of the commuter rail to a new company, Keolis Commuter Services LLC, which was awarded an 8-year base contract of $2.686 billion to run the operation.
The decision came after 30 people, all with vested interest in the procurement of a rail contract, delivered remarks arguing for and against the operational change.
Employees of the current rail operator, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail Company, delivered testimony arguing that the board should take 30 days to reconsider a contract with Keolis.
Both the MBCR and Keolis were evaluated on 11 factors, including safety, security and emergency response, mechanical services, customer services, management, information technology and civil rights programs.
Keolis racked up an overall score of “good,” compared to the MBCR, which ended up with an “acceptable” ranking.
According to MBTA General Manager Dr. Beverly Scott, when the contract goes into effect in July, passengers can expect an improvement in commuter rail customer experience, including cleanliness, comfort, and on-time performance.
The agency will also take away financial incentives, and instead, will penalize the operator for not adhering to strict schedules and other expectations.
“The new contract sets a ‘no excuses’ expectation that the operator will run the trains on time – including more stringent performance criteria and no automatic relief. In a major change – the new commuter rail contract does not include any incentive payments and, if performance standards are not met, imposes financial disincentives (i.e., performance failure payments) on the operator,” Scott said in a statement.
“I want to stress that our goal is performance, not penalties.”
Scott spoke about the improvements passengers can expect with the new contract.
“The new contract sets a ‘no excuses’ expectation that the operator will run the trains on time, including more stringent performance criteria…” she said,
“[The contract] places additional emphasis on vehicle [and] station cleanliness and passenger comfort. For the first time under the new contract, 50 percent of the amount of financial disincentives that the operator will be tied to [include] elements of customer satisfaction, such as cleanliness, heating and air conditioning, maintaining staffing levels and customer communications.”
Earlier in the meeting, after two straight hours of public comment, a man who was standing in the back of the crowded board meeting collapsed. He later regained consciousness, and according to the board chairman, was expected to be treated at a local hospital.