Gov. Baker's MBTA panel issues highly critical report on transit agency following harsh winter

The Boston-area transit system suffers from a structural failure that has resulted in severe financial distress, ineffective management and no viable maintenance and repair plan for its vehicles and equipment, according to a scathing report released Wednesday by a panel created by Gov. Charlie Baker.

The report commissioned after severe winter storms crippled the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority calls for a series of major changes, including higher fares, creation of a management control board and a plan to reduce high absenteeism among agency employees.

"The catastrophic winter breakdowns were symptomatic of structural problems that require fundamental change in virtually all aspects of the MBTA," the report said.

The panel, which concludes that "nothing short of bold and urgent action" is required to fix the MBTA, called on Baker to request the resignation of all members of the board that currently oversees the authority.

While stopping short of recommending more drastic scenarios such as placing the T in receivership or abolishing the agency altogether and forming a new one to operate public transit, the panel called for the creation of a control board that would provide oversight and management support for the next three to five years.

Its report also suggests that the state consider assuming debt for $1.8 billion transit projects that were built in conjunction with Boston's Big Dig project.

The Legislature should also review the T's collective bargaining process with its labor unions, which have stood in the way of reforms, the report said. The panel noted that the MBTA is the only public union with binding arbitration settlements that are not subject to approval.

The report cites high rates of absenteeism among employees as a major example of weak MBTA management. Tens of thousands of bus trips are canceled each year due to unplanned absences, and 15 percent of all T employees took at least one sick day as the system was attempting to recover from the record-setting snowstorms.

Fares paid by MBTA riders are "significantly lower" than those of other similarly-sized U.S. transit systems, and fares cover only 39 percent of the system's operating expenses, not including debt service, the report said.

Baker was scheduled to discuss the panel's findings at a news conference Wednesday morning.