MBTA Officials continue to push privatization despite struggles with Keolis

On Tuesday December 13th,  state transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told the Boston Herald that “right now” the private sector could run the city’s bus service “better” than the MBTA. She praised the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co for their report promoting outsourcing opportunities for the MBTA which has already cost taxpayers a whopping $1 million dollars. That money doesn’t even count what taxpayers may lose if the privatization schemes they end up recommending backfire — like the massive cost overruns experienced with Keolis.

As previously posted, McKinsey is notorious for unequivocally recommending privatization as a solution for improving public services. In 2007, McKinsey characterized Seattle Public Schools as bogged down by such “high costs” as health care for teachers. McKinsey then recommended converting the lowest-performing schools into charter schools that use public dollars while operating outside the purview of local school boards. As of the date this blog was posted, MBTA officials have not responded to media requests for the million dollar McKinsey report, saying they’re “processing” a request from the Herald, which seems at odds with recent promises to bring additional accountability and transparency to the MBTA.

Pollack’s claim seems particularly questionable on the heels of the news that the commuter rail – currently contracted out to private-operator, Keolis – saw an increasing number of service delays this fall. And while much talk has been made about preparing transit lines for winter, there were over 40 service delays on the commuter rail before 9am due to cold weather conditions on Friday, December 16th alone. In the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board Second Annual Report, also released on Tuesday, they state that “Keolis continues to incur substantial fines for failing to meet contractual standards.” Ironically, many of those fines have been waived by the administration.

So, it’s unclear in light of these recent events and evidence from a myriad of failed privatization schemes in other cities, how MBTA officials continue to make sweeping statements about the benefits of privatization with so little to go on. In fact, during recent major weather events, MBTA publicly operated bus service performance metrics have been far superior to the privatized commuter rail services furnished by Keolis. Boston has a checkered and dangerous history with privately operated bus transportation, including well known and well documented safety problems and dangerous incidents involving major private bus providers such as Crystal Transport and Fung Wah. Riders, taxpayers, and workers all have plenty of reason to be skeptical of claims that handing more control of MBTA busses to private interests would be in the public interest.


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