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Baker bill allows review of MBTA contracts, including Keolis

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

By Gintautas Dumcius

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE — The control board proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker would be able to review all MBTA contracts entered into before its existence, including the contract with the private firm operating the commuter rail system.

The legislation released by Baker on Wednesday would allow the panel to review and amend any contract entered into by the MBTA, “as necessary, in accordance with their terms.”

The legislation is based on a Baker-appointed task force report that called for an overhaul of the transit agency, which experienced service failure this winter and has struggled with employee absenteeism, debt issues and system expansion needs over the years. The task force called for a finance and management control board to reorganize the agency.

Under Baker’s proposal, the five-member control board would be a temporary measure, overseeing the MBTA at least through June 30, 2018, which falls in the middle of the next gubernatorial election year.

The task force report released earlier this month did not dive deeply into the operation of the transit system’s commuter rail network, which also struggled during the winter storms, cancelling trains and returning to full service by the end of March.

Keolis, the French firm that has the $2.7 billion, eight-year contract that started last year, was hit with over $434,000 in on-time performance-related penalties in February. The company also came in for criticism from Baker about its performance.

“The MBTA should commit high-level attention to the management of the Commuter Rail contract, and should emphasize collaboration and be focused on customer service and operational concerns,” the task force report said.

In the aftermath of the storms, Thomas Mulligan, the general manager at Keolis, was replaced by Gerald Francis, who issued multiple apologies to customers through newspaper advertisements and testimony to a legislative committee.

The MBTA granted a request for relief from Keolis on April 7, according to an MBTA spokesman. Keolis was excused from its performance obligations caused by “force majeure.”

The contract Keolis has with the MBTA includes the “force majeure” provision that can be invoked for an “act of God” or weather that affects the performance of transit services.

Because Keolis still had late trains aside from the times they invoked “force majeure,” the $434,000-plus fine remains in place.

The times they received relief for included Jan. 27 through Jan. 28, Feb. 2 through Feb. 3, Feb. 8 through Feb. 10, and Feb. 14 through Feb. 15, according to the MBTA.

In letters to the MBTA notifying the transit agency of its “force majeure” requests, Keolis said the severe weather caused commuter rail property to be “substantially unusable.”

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