I was outraged to hear that the Baker administration decided to forgive $839,000 in fines leveled against Keolis, the outsourced operator of the commuter rail system, behind closed doors and without any notice to the public. As co-chairs of the MBTA Legislative Caucus, Senator Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester), Representative Sean Garballey (D-Arlington), and I sent a letter to Governor Baker yesterday last week, urging him to hold Keolis fully accountable for its poor performance.
The winter of 2015 was brutal for Massachusetts commuters and residents. Nearly two-thirds of Keolis-operated trains were late or cancelled in February of that year. Due to performance-based provisions in its contract with Keolis, the state justifiably fined the rail operator for its failure to ensure timely transportation services.
However, without notifying the public, the Baker administration decided to waive $839,000 of those fines in November of 2015, citing unforeseen extreme weather as an excuse. Given that commuters did not receive their money back when trains were overcrowded, late, or cancelled, it’s puzzling that Governor Baker supports forgiving Keolis, a multi-billion dollar global corporation hauling in $5 billion in revenue in 2015.
Unfortunately, the Governor’s tolerance with Keolis’ poor services is the latest of a series of disturbing decisions that seem to prioritize corporate interests over working families. In 2015, the Baker administration gave back additional fines to Keolis to allow them to hire more staff, and earlier this year, Governor Baker rewarded Keolis with an extra $66 million over six years above its agreed contract despite the company’s continued poor performance.
It seems that when a multi-billion dollar global corporation makes multiple mistakes, Governor Baker is not just ready to forgive – he is comfortable spending tax dollars to bail them out.
At the same time, when it comes to MBTA cash counters, bus drivers, janitors, and many of the MBTA’s professional staff that make the state’s transit system work, workers are blamed for the T’s overall problems, early retirement is pushed, and jobs are outsourced. Additionally, Governor Baker continues to cite reduced revenue to justify his opposition to make necessary investments in essential government services. If the state can’t afford to invest in its people, then it’s fiscally irresponsible to let Keolis off the hook when it fails to deliver its contractual obligations.
Last week, multiple elected officials, led by Mayor Marty Walsh, stood side by side with workers in strong opposition to Governor Baker’s agenda to outsource transportation jobs and services. That rally could mark a turning point in the Legislature’s go-along to get-along attitude with the Baker administration. In the interim, the public deserves answers on how Baker’s corporate welfare will lead to a better MBTA system for Massachusetts commuters.