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MBTA planning 'hiring blitz;' GM proposes $10K hiring bonus

WCVB Boston logo WCVB Boston 6/24/2022
new orange line mbta subway cars © WCVB new orange line mbta subway cars

The MBTA said the transit agency has launched a "hiring blitz" this week to staff up as quickly as possible, floating the idea of a $10,000 signing bonus and better working hours in order to attract new workers.

The announcement comes just says after the transit agency said it would be running some of its subway lines at reduced-service weekend levels every day through the summer as it tries to address a staffing shortage that federal investigators said is a safety risk.

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The Federal Transit Administration ordered the MBTA to take immediate action to respond to issues found during a probe of the agency's safety.

The FTA found that dispatchers in April were regularly required to work 16-hour shifts and sometimes 20-hour shifts followed by only four hours off.

The MBTA scaled back service on the Red, Orange and Blue Lines so it would not stretch its existing number of dispatchers too thin.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak gave the board a rundown of the steps the T is taking to address the FTA's concerns.

"The central message I want to get out is that safety is a priority here at the MBTA. We have viewed the safety management inspection as a process to have a really extensive review of our practices here at the T and, to the extent that we have deficiencies, to be able to address them. And I think we are appreciative of what the FTA has pointed out and we are aligned as an organization, and we have put not only our significant internal resources in terms of organizing ourselves around each one of these directives to address them in a timely manner," Poftak said. "I hope you've taken away from this conversation that we are not waiting, we're not waiting to submit and get them back from the FTA before we take action. We are taking what we believe are the necessary actions now."

Insufficient staffing at the T's operations control center, where dispatchers monitor and manage the movement of vehicles through the subway system, was one of four significant areas of concern highlighted

"We're working hard to attract new people to the position, but I think we're also working hard to make the position attractive by limiting the number of hours, trying to have schedules that are less demanding than they were before," Poftak said. "We're hopeful that this job is attractive to people and we're also expending resources here, we are in the process of putting in place a $10,000 signing bonus. So this is one that we take quite seriously."

The Federal Transit Administration's review began in May after the agency sent a letter to Poftak saying they're extremely concerned about "the pattern of safety incidents" citing "derailments, train collisions, grade crossing fatalities, and incidents that have endangered both MBTA employees and its passengers."

Four Red Line cars that broke loose from a train and rolled through Braintree Station, officials confirmed Tuesday.

On Sunday, an elevator at the Chinatown Station suddenly reversed direction. Ten people were able to get off without being injured.

Brand new Orange and Red Line cars pulled from service because of a battery problem on Monday. It's the second time the new train cars have been pulled from service since last month.

Earlier this month on the Green Line, a two-car westbound train with 20 to 25 passengers on board, struck a two-car, passenger-less train that was preparing to enter service at Government Center. Three MBTA Green Line operators were injured.

In April, a Red Line passenger was killed at Broadway Station when the man’s arm became trapped in the door of the train -- dragging him as the train departed. A preliminary NTSB report found a train safety feature failed.

In September, a Red Line car derailed at the Broadway station. One car sustained serious damage.

That same month, an escalator that malfunctioned at Back Bay station sent a group of riders tumbling to the bottom.

“The governor and our team working in conjunction with the legislature and the federal government will work in partnership to make the improvements," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said.

The Red, Orange and Blue lines are on a weekend schedule after federal officials called-out understaffing at the MBTA's operations center.

The FTA will issue a final report this summer on its findings.

Information from the State House News Service was used in this report.

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