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Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)

Evaluation of MBTA Paratransit and Accessible Fixed Route Transit Services

Contract #A29PS01
Final Report

(Text-Only Version)

Prepared by:
TranSystems Corp.

Medford, MA
and:
Planners Collaborative

Boston, MA


August 24, 2007

CONTENTS

Introduction 1


Executive Summary 4
Section 1. Evaluation of Accessible Fixed Route Transit Services 13
1.1. Overview of MBTA Fixed Route Services 13

1.2. Evaluation of Accessible Fixed Route Service Facilities and Stations 13

1.3. Public Input Regarding Fixed Route Services 31

1.4. Accessible Fixed Route Service Observations 35

1.5. Fixed Route Service Monitoring Plan 71
Section 2. Evaluation of THE RIDE Service 91
2.1. Overview of THE RIDE Organization and Design 91

2.2. Evaluation of THE RIDE Service Policies 93

2.3. Public Input Regarding THE RIDE Services 113

2.4. THE RIDE Service Evaluation 119

2.5. THE RIDE Monitoring Plan 153

2.6. THE RIDE Service Performance 169

Attachment A: Inventory of Elevators in MBTA Rapid Rail, Light Rail and Silver Line Stations

Attachment B: Public Input Received on Fixed Route Accessibility Issues

Attachment C: Public Input Received on THE RIDE Service

Attachment D: THE RIDE Service Performance Statistics By Service Contractor, July 2004 through February 2007



Introduction
In March of 2005, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) contracted with TranSystems Corp. and Planners Collaborative to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of its paratransit (THE RIDE) and accessible fixed route transit services. The objectives of this evaluation were:


  • To improve the accessibility and usability of the MBTA’s paratransit and fixed route services.

  • To ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) transportation requirements.

  • To develop service monitoring procedures that are responsive to customer needs.

  • To improve communications between the MBTA, riders with disabilities, and seniors.

The initial task of the evaluation involved reviewing the MBTA’s policies and procedures related to accessibility. For fixed route rail and bus services, this included an examination of the MBTA’s Facility Design Manual and fixed route vehicle specifications. For THE RIDE, this initial task involved an examination of service policies and procedures as well as requirements in contracts with service providers. Current MBTA policies and procedures were compared to federal and state requirements regarding accessibility. Two Technical Memoranda were then prepared. Technical Memorandum #1 examined THE RIDE service policies and contract requirements. Technical Memorandum #2 examined fixed route facility and vehicle accessibility policies. Both memoranda provided observations and recommendations regarding accessibility and regulatory compliance. These memoranda were delivered to the MBTA in August of 2005.


The second major study task involved gathering information about actual operating practices. For fixed route services, this included gathering information about station accessibility, the maintenance of accessibility features such as elevators and bus lifts and ramps, the status of on-board and external stop announcements, and the provision of information and communications about accessible services. For THE RIDE, this second task involved first-hand observations of the service provision and the collection of information about telephone access, trip reservations and scheduling, on-time performance, travel times, and other key service performance measures. Two more technical memoranda were then prepared. Technical Memorandum #3 provided information about THE RIDE operations and performance. Technical Memorandum #4 presented observations and recommendations regarding fixed route rail and bus accessibility. These two memoranda were delivered to the MBTA in November of 2005.
An extensive effort also was made to obtain public input on the accessibility and usability of MBTA services from seniors and persons with disabilities. Five open public meetings were held throughout the MBTA region to get feedback on fixed route and THE RIDE services. Five focus groups also were facilitated to get additional rider input on THE RIDE services. Public input was then detailed in Technical Memorandum #5, which was delivered to the MBTA in January of 2006.
Based on the information collected, first-hand observations, and public input received, key service issues were then identified for both fixed route services and THE RIDE. A detailed Monitoring Plan was then developed to strengthen the MBTA’s oversight and management of accessible services. This Monitoring Plan was finalized in August of 2006 and was outlined in Technical Memorandum #6.
The TranSystems study team then worked with the MBTA to implement the recommended service monitoring procedures for THE RIDE. Strengthened monitoring activities were implemented from September 2006 through February 2007. Two additional Technical Memoranda (#7 and #9) were prepared which summarized monitoring activities and outcomes. Technical Memorandum #7 detailed monitoring activities from September 1 through November 30, 2006. Technical Memorandum #9 described monitoring activities from December 1, 2006 through February 2007.
The original scope of work called for the TranSystems study team to also assist the MBTA in implementing strengthened monitoring activities for fixed route operations. This portion of the study was affected, however, by a legal development in 2006. On April 10, 2006, the MBTA entered into a Settlement Agreement with the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) related to a civil class action concerning fixed route service accessibility. The Settlement Agreement calls for detailed actions that included expanded monitoring of bus and rail accessibility. The Agreement also called for a specific process and contract for implementing and carrying out the required monitoring activities. While many aspects of the Monitoring Plan developed through this study may be used to assist the MBTA in implementing the terms and conditions of the Settlement Agreement, responsibility for the actual implementation of these activities became the purview of the new contract developed as part of the Agreement. As a result, the TranSystems study team did not work with the MBTA to implement the recommended fixed route monitoring plan – this is being done under the separate Settlement Agreement contract.
Finally, this study examined the advisory committee process used by the MBTA to obtain ongoing input from seniors and riders with disabilities. Recommendations for strengthening this process were developed and included in a “stand-alone” report (Technical Memorandum #8), which was delivered to the MBTA in January of 2007.
Throughout this two-year study, TranSystems worked closely with a Project Advisory Group (PAG) which reviewed and provided feedback on activities and products. The PAG also provided general study guidance. The PAG included key staff from the MBTA as well as representatives of the MBTA’s Access Advisory Committee (AACT), the RIDE Advocacy Project (RAP), the Massachusetts Executive Office on Transportation (EOT), and the Massachusetts Executive Office on Elder Affairs (EOEA). The following members of the PAG were instrumental in the success of this project:


  • Loretta J. Williams, RIDE Advocacy Project

  • Pam Rogers, RIDE Advocacy project

  • Kathryn Piccard, Access Advisory Committee to the MBTA

  • Cheri Lieberman, Access Advisory Committee to the MBTA

  • James F. Oliver, Access Advisory Committee to the MBTA

  • Emmett Schmarsow, Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs

  • Michael Gleba, Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation

  • Erik Scheier, MBTA Project Manager

  • Alan Castaline, MBTA Operations

  • Wendy Stern, MBTA Operations

  • Kevin McGuire, MBTA Operations

  • Robert Rizzo, MBTA Office of Transportation Access

  • Kathy Cox, MBTA Office of Transportation Access

  • Carol Joyce-Harrington, MBTA Office of Transportation Access

  • Barbara Boylan, MBTA Construction

  • Michael Festa, MBTA Construction

  • Anna Barry, MBTA Railroad Operations

  • Tom Foster, MBTA Railroad Operations

  • John Lewis, MBTA Maintenance

  • John McSweeney, MBTA Operations Support

  • Stephen Williams, MBTA Operations Support

  • Jeff Parker, MBTA Subway Operations

  • Richard Leary, MBTA Bus Operations

This report provides a summary of the study activities, findings and recommendations. Section 1 describes evaluation activities related to accessible fixed route services. This includes reviews of station accessibility, vehicle accessibility, bus and rail operations, and public communications. Public input received concerning fixed route services is included in this section. Suggested monitoring activities for fixed route operations also are provided. Section 2 then presents evaluation activities related to the MBTA’s THE RIDE service. This includes a review of THE RIDE policies and procedures and on-site observations of THE RIDE operations. Public comments received regarding THE RIDE service are included. The monitoring plan that was developed for THE RIDE also is described. As a summary of study activities, this report describes the study activities, the key findings and observations, and the key recommendations. More detailed data collected as part of each phase of the study are included in the nine Technical Memoranda noted above.


Recommendations for the MBTA’s consideration are included throughout this report. In the Executive Summary, recommendations are presented in bold text. In the rest of the report recommendations are presented in underlined, bold text. This method of identifying recommendations is not used in the Monitoring Plan sections of the report (Section 1.5 and 2.6) since almost all elements of the plans are recommendations for changes in monitoring procedures.
It is important to note that the observations of service accessibility that are summarized in this report were made in 2005 and recommendations were made to the MBTA throughout the study. Many of the recommendations made in this report therefore have already been implemented or addressed by the MBTA.
Executive Summary
The evaluation found that the MBTA has historically had very extensive and aggressive programs to provide accessible fixed route and THE RIDE services for riders with disabilities. The MBTA committed to purchasing all accessible fixed route buses as well as providing THE RIDE services in the mid-1980s – several years prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when both types of services began to be required. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the MBTA also undertook extensive modernization of its rail systems and made improvements to station accessibility as part of these system upgrades. After the passage of the ADA, the MBTA adopted a very aggressive key station program, naming a high percentage of its rail stations as “key stations” and programming them for accessibility. The MBTA also adopted a policy of providing THE RIDE services to a broader area and to more riders than the “minimums” called for in the ADA and for providing same-day trips as well as pre-scheduled trips. Some of the notable achievements of these policies are:
Fixed Route Achievements:


  • 181 of the MBTA’s 280 rail stations (65%) are accessible

  • 80 of the MBTA’s rail stations have been designated as “key stations” to be made accessible. This was more than any other transit system in the country.

  • 100% of the MBTA’s bus fleet is now lift or ramp-equipped and accessible to riders with disabilities. The fleet consists of 993 buses with 597 (60%) ramp equipped and 396 (40%) lift equipped.

  • The MBTA is adding public address (PA) systems and variable message signs (VMS) at many stations to improve public information. PA systems are installed in 66 stations. VMS systems have been installed in 26 stations. Coordinated public address and variable message signs (PAVMS) systems have been added to two stations

  • Almost all commuter rail stations have LED signage.

  • In 2007, the MBTA initiated a GPS based program to provide automated public address announcements of all train arrivals at the MBTA’s 126 commuter rail stations.

  • Automated stop announcement technology is being added to fixed route buses. 81% of the bus fleet is now equipped with PAVMS technology to assist with stop announcements.

  • A secret rider monitoring program of stop announcements and an aggressive disciplinary policy related to stop announcements has been implemented.


THE RIDE Achievements:


  • 65,000 people are registered to use THE RIDE and almost 25,000 use it regularly.

  • Over 1.4 million rides were provided in FY2006.

  • Service is provided throughout 62 communities, exceeding the requirements of the ADA.

  • A fare of $2.00 has been maintained (lower than the ceiling allowed by the ADA).

  • In many communities, the days and hours of THE RIDE service are more extensive than that of fixed route services.

  • Same day trips and trip changes are accommodated whenever possible, again exceeding the ADA requirements.

  • State-of-the-art technologies, including scheduling software, on-board computers (MDTs) and satellite tracking systems (AVL) have been added to vehicles to improve service reliability, monitoring and efficiency.

Recent challenges facing the MBTA in its efforts to serve riders with disabilities have largely been related to maintaining and monitoring the extensive accessible infrastructure and services that were created and implemented. On the fixed route side, while many accessibility features exist and programs are extensive, the evaluation found that some of these systems and programs are aging and are not always working as intended. As a result, the MBTA’s services are not as usable as they could be for riders with disabilities. The review of system accessibility conducted in 2005 as part of this evaluation found that:




  • There are at least 15 different elevator suppliers throughout the system. The greater the number of elevator types inevitably makes elevator maintenance a greater challenge.

  • Of the 113 MBTA station elevators, 47 (42%) were 15 years old or older (the age at which elevators are typically replaced).

  • Between January 1 and March 31, 2005 elevator availability was only 90% with weekly averages ranging from 86% to 95%.

  • Elevator inspection and reporting was not centralized.

  • Elevator maintenance was being performed during operating hours, which made the stations inaccessible to riders with disabilities.

  • Maintenance efforts in 2005 were weighted to servicing problem elevators and away from regular preventive maintenance inspections. Approximately 67 % of the service calls studied were repeat calls to the same elevator with three or more service calls made to 40% of the elevators serviced.

  • Although elevators were being inspected every eight hours by Transportation Inspectors, the information that they gather from first hand observation was not captured in the MBTA’s Maintenance Control and Reporting System (MCRS) in an accurate and consistent manner. As a result, public information on the MBTA’s elevator hotline and website about elevator availability was inconsistent.

  • There did not appear to be an official policy or procedure to provide alternative service when an elevator is inoperable.

  • There appears to be no mechanism for daily inspection of elevators at commuter rail stations and for tracking the status of elevators at stations not owned by the MBTA.

  • The MBTA did not appear to track buses with inoperable lifts/ramps being used in service. Of 83 lift/ramp defects reported by drivers in July of 2005, the vehicles appeared to be subsequently used in service 48.2 % of the time

  • Monitoring from October to December 2004 showed that 74.4 percent of stops were announced for bus, 81.9 percent for the Green Line and Mattapan Trolley, 90.2 percent for Rapid Transit, and 81.7 percent for Commuter Rail. The external announcement rate was much lower, 69.6 percent.

Since the evaluation in 2005, the MBTA has taken significant actions to begin to address these issues. Since September 1, 2005 the MBTA reports elevator availability of 96% and above. The MBTA recently hired an engineering firm to review the status of the MBTA’s elevators and develop a program for elevator overhaul and replacement. On April 6, 2006 the MBTA Board of Directors approved a 2007 - 2011 Capital Improvement Program, containing a budget of $122 million for replacement or upgrade of station elevators and escalators. Procedures to improve the tracking and reporting of elevator condition also have been implemented and the accuracy of public information has improved.


The following recommendations were developed during the course of the study to assist the MBTA in its efforts to continue to improve the accessibility and reliability of fixed route services: The MBTA has addressed or begun to address many of these recommendations.
The MBTA should establish an elevator replacement program designed to avoid operation of elevators beyond their effective life.
The MBTA should consider the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) “Heavy Duty Transportation System Elevator Design Guidelines” in development of specifications for future elevator procurements.
The MBTA should consider consolidated elevator procurement for all elevators needed within a specific time frame (3 to 5 years) as a means of reducing the number of elevator types and suppliers.
The Operations Support Manager of elevator maintenance should be given responsible for all MBTA owned and operated elevators including those under warranty.
The MBTA should emphasize preventive maintenance to minimize potential problems, particularly with an older complement of elevators.
The Operations Support Manager should include random field inspections of the elevator repairs as they are being performed by the elevator maintenance technicians as part of the verification process.
Consideration should be given to performing preventive maintenance during non-service hours in order to avoid disruption to customers.
The MBTA should develop a procedure for regular (daily) inspection of all commuter rail elevators, including those for which other entities have maintenance responsibility, and a procedure for timely reporting to MBTA public information staff and the responsible entity the status of all elevators at commuter rail stations served by the MBTA.
All information on elevator status, including daily inspection reports by Station Inspectors and reports from the maintenance contractor, including scheduled maintenance, should be reported through the Maintenance Control and Reporting System (MCRS) in a timely fashion and the elevator status should be updated in the MCRS.
More accurate and detailed monitoring and tracking of elevator status should be performed and recorded. Recorded information should include times and dates of each action from initial reports of inoperable elevators to restoration of operation in MCRS.
The MBTA should consider the use of personal data assistants (PDA) by Station Inspectors to more methodically capture the inspection results and reduce the amount of communication. Such systems are currently used for facility management in other organizations, such as Harvard University. The Inspector would record the inspection results on a Daily Station Report in the PDA and transmit the report directly to a module in the MCRS system either with a wireless transmission or through a hard wire connection within the transit system.
The MBTA should institute a quality control procedure to assure that information on elevator status is consistently reported on both the elevator hot line and the MBTA web site.
Real time reports that identify elevator status through the MCRS should be developed and made readily available to MBTA public information staff.
To facilitate tracking and reporting progress on the status of corrective actions, it is recommended that inquiry access to the MCRS be provided customer service staff and the MBTA’s Accessibility Specialist. Such access will provide real time information needed by customer service staff and save staff time by avoiding phone calls, e-mails, or other inter-departmental communication to obtain the needed information.
The MBTA’s PA Announcer should review the MCRS every half-hour during the service day to check for changes in the status of elevators.
The MBTA should consider installation of elevator status information on variable message signs located so they can be read by a passenger before entering the station. Means for obtaining alternate route information or assistance should be located near the VMS.
The MBTA should aggressively pursue its program to install a coordinated PAVMS system in its stations in order to better provide information to all riders.
Variable message signs on passenger platforms should be placed above and perpendicular to the platform in order to maximize their visibility to waiting passengers.
The practice for providing alternate service when an elevator is unavailable should be incorporated into a formal procedure to avoid miscommunication and expedite provision of alternative transportation service when appropriate. This procedure should address how information about alternate service will be effectively communicated to riders.
Portable lifts at all accessible stations should be cycled daily by Transportation Inspectors to assure that they are in good operating order. Inoperable lifts should be recorded in daily station reports and reported to maintenance staff for repair or replacement in a timely manner.
Portable lifts should be stored in designated areas at stations, with the areas selected to provide ease of use and to avoid blocking pathways. Portable lifts should be accessible and usable in all weather conditions.
It is recommended that the Railroad Operations Snow Removal Plan be revised to specifically mention clearing paths of travel between platforms and the public way (streets, sidewalks, parking lots).
On commuter rail, PA systems and bridge plates should be inspected on a regular schedule.
The MBTA should continue its program of replacing older buses with low-floor buses equipped with ramps and PAVMS.
The stop announcement “secret rider” program should be expanded to include riders who use wheelchairs and who regularly use the system to monitor appropriate use of lifts, ramps, bridge plates, kneelers and securement systems.
PAVMS equipment and wheelchair securements should be explicitly included on daily vehicle inspection forms to reinforce the importance of their inspection to providing accessible service.
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