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Can the MBTA Improve Operations Through Service Chain Optimization?

Can the MBTA Improve Operations Through Service Chain Optimization?

Can the MBTA Improve Operations Through Service Chain Optimization?

June 26, 2012 ClickSoftware 0 Comments

With a pending 23% MBTA fare hike scheduled for July 1, a recently approved $51 million budget bailout, and a staggering 20% projected increase in riders, Boston commuters are being hammered by numbers. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, we illustrate the details of the cash-strapped MBTA with a detailed infographic.

Most of ClickSoftware’s Greater Boston area team regularly uses the MBTA, and it isn’t always a pretty picture. As we learned recently, we all added to the 390 million transit trips in and around Boston last year – the most riders since 1946 – and we were a part of a record 15-straight months of ridership growth.  On the surface this should be great news for one of the nation’s busiest transit systems – especially one struggling financially. However, deeper digging is needed to understand the impact on budget and operations.

In looking at the numbers, what we found most interesting is that the MBTA has to shut down at 12:30am every night so crews can do necessary repairs, including working through a $4.5 billion backlog of maintenance projects on aging equipment.  These numbers for any operation – public or private – when combined with an $8.5 billion debt load and an overtime operating budget of $30.9 million, led me to wonder, are there other solutions?

Fare hikes should help, but fares only account for 28% of the MBTA revenue. So does cutting routes and raising fares make sense?

We’ve seen these problems before in our work with public and private service organizations – and while it seems overwhelming, there are steps the MBTA can take to lower operating costs, increase productivity, and address a large backlog of maintenance projects. And these types of solutions will even help make riding the T more enjoyable!

The MBTA can take a look at the work utility companies are doing, for example. That industry faces similar issues such as an aging infrastructure, the need to react to emergency repairs, and management of a large number of assets, people and maintenance projects. These problems don’t always get solved by throwing money at them. Scheduling and mobile workforce management solutions can lower idle time for maintenance crews, automate prioritization of projects and maintenance, and eliminate what we imagine must be a mountain of paperwork at the MBTA headquarters.

But how do we suggest the MBTA can beat its budget woes? It starts with recognizing that the technology and processes that manage the workforce are equally as important as the assets and vehicles that they service. Transportation operations have thousands of assets, hundreds of people, and tens of thousands of maintenance and repair jobs per year – which is too much to manage, communicate, and track using legacy tools and ideas.

Our history with similar organizations have resulted in reductions in operating costs, backlogs, and breakdowns, along with faster response to handle emergencies — which all results, on average, to a 10% – 30% increase in effectiveness. In an organization of hundreds of field and back office workers, this typically translates into a saving of several million dollars a year.

Leaders in the transportation industry must recognize that an impact on the workforce is a direct impact on the bottom line. Trains can only go so fast. Busses are constrained by the roads and traffic, and assets break down. But within the workforce that keeps the trains, busses, and boats moving – there is a ‘treasure chest’ of capacity to be found, and savings to be reaped.

Here’s where we suggest they spend some of the $51 million bailout: smartphones. It’s not going to solve all their problems – and it might sound like a gratuitous waste of money – but the MBTA should strongly consider a mobile strategy that empowers every employee with a smartphone or tablet. It’s been demonstrated that if employees are able to immediately access back-office information, such as work orders or maintenance logs, productivity increases, and there’s greater chance that the job will be completed on the first attempt. Replacing outdated technology (radios and cell phones) with tablets and smartphones – enables real-time capture of information in the field – which will enable better monitoring of the workforce.

These are just some of the things we’re talking about on Twitter at #MBTAOps too – let us know your thoughts.

To gather the data for our Infographic project, we used the MBTA’s own data mostly found at We also used data provide by other city transportation leaders and some area news reports. To see the exact data cited, click here.

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