MBTA manager: System safe despite the poor condition of some of its assets

Responding Monday to a news story detailing a state of disrepair across the MBTA’s stations, parking garages and other facilities, MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez said much of the T’s system needs to be repaired but remains safe for riders.

The Boston Globe reported Monday that an internal MBTA assessment of its assets found that 57 percent of the T’s stations or garages scored a 2 or lower when assessed on a five-point scale with 1 being the worst rating. Seventy-eight T properties were rated as a 1, including more than half of Orange Line stations and major hubs like South Station, Back Bay and Downtown Crossing, the Globe reported.

“We went through our asset management plan for the next few years and we’ve put together a plan that, while it has a lot of facilities marked for improvements, that doesn’t mean that they’re not unsafe (sic) for use,” Ramirez told reporters Monday after a meeting of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board. “In fact, we do safety inspections and we do periodic reviews of these facilities to make sure that they remain safe for public use. We continue to stand behind that.”

Ramirez acknowledged that “it’s true that we also have assets that need to be worked on over time” and pointed to the recent decision to allocate $8.1 billion for systemwide improvements in the T’s five-year capital plan -- more than doubling the rate of capital investment spending of the last five years -- as evidence that the T is serious about returning the transit network to good repair.

“It is an old system and it’s been around for a long time. So we have some assets in the system that are 100 years old and some assets that are less than 5 years old,” he said. “So for me, the key long-term is to make sure that, in addition to making the investments to fix and improve the systems and the processes that we have, we also have to make sure that we have a long-term maintenance plan for all these assets as well to continue to keep them at a good rate of repair.”

During Monday’s FMCB meeting, MBTA Chief Engineer Erik Stoothoff explained that the T is in the middle of a comprehensive inventory on the condition of its facilities, a new reporting requirement from the Federal Transit Agency.

Stoothoff said a Transit Asset Management Plan, which establishes an action plan for improving asset management and assesses what it would take to bring the entire system up to a state of good repair, is due to the FTA’s National Transit Database by Oct. 1 and that a more detailed report including information on “all assets owned, contracted and/or managed by the MBTA and used in the provision of providing public transportation services” is due by Oct. 31.

When the T submits its report to the FTA by Oct. 31, it will have to include facility condition ratings -- a 1 to 5 scale with 1 being “poor” and 5 being “excellent” -- for at least a quarter of MBTA facilities. The T will be required to issue facility condition ratings for all of its facilities within four years.

Stoothoof said the T was getting a better grasp on its assets and their conditions “so that we can do a better job of managing our system, using information to make more data-driven decisions ... as well as meeting some of our federal deliverable requirements for making sure that we’re being good stewards of the federal investments that are being made into our assets.”

Gov. Charlie Baker and others have blamed old, worn-out equipment for some failures of the region’s transit system. In 2015, T officials estimated that it would cost $7.3 billion to bring the MBTA into a state of good repair.

On Monday, FMCB Chairman Joseph Aiello asked Stoothoof to do a “preliminary reset of what that $7.3 billion number is” after his team completes the federally-required Oct. 31 submission to determine whether the 2015 estimate was on target or whether progress has been made against that projection.

Asked Monday if he had a message about the T’s safety for MBTA riders, Ramirez made a brief statement before taking no more questions from reporters.

“My message to folks is that we’re committed to running a safe and reliable system for everyone who uses it throughout the commonwealth,” he said. “Thank you.”