A state audit released Thursday reveals a discrepancy of more than $100 million and raises major questions about the reliability of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s automated fare collection system. The audit covered five years, from 2006 to 2011. During that time, the MBTA's automated fare collection system recorded more than $225 million. But the actual fare box cash receipts deposited were just $123 million.
"What we're finding is that the machines are not accurately recording the amount of money being taken in," says state auditor Suzanne Bump.
Bump says they have no evidence that money was stolen, but no assurance that it hasn’t been. They just don’t know.
Since 2005, the T’s automated fare collection system has not been able to properly record the intake of cash or communicate electronically with the MBTA central accounting system. Fare box collections have therefore been manually counted and cannot be reconciled with any of the system’s revenue reports.
"What it means is the technology that should be able to be relied upon, and was purchased at a great cost, still doesn't work properly," says Bump.
In addition, the money collected in fare boxes was not tracked when removed from buses and trolleys, and the MBTA lost 12 keys that open the cash boxes.
In an statement, the MBTA said, "The MBTA is confident than [sic] all cash is handled appropriately and in a secure manner. The issues identified in the audit report reflect software integration issues in the fare collection system – not a loss of revenue." The MBTA also stated that while integrating the processing of Charlie Card and cash fares after the card's 2006 introduction "has proved more complicated than originally thought," they are "confident in the data from the cash processing system."
The audit comes at a time that the T is under fire for its deficit and recent fare increases. Auditor Bump is calling on the MBTA to immediately correct the software and hardware problems.
The following is the complete statement released by the MBTA:
The MBTA is confident than all cash is handled appropriately and in a secure manner. The issues identified in the audit report reflect software integration issues in the
All cash collected on MBTA bus and light rail vehicles is securely transferred from on-board fare boxes to the MBTA’s revenue department. At all points in the process, cash handling is performed securely using a key card access controlled system and under constant video surveillance. While reconciliation is made more difficult by the software and business process issues, all revenue is being securely collected, counted and deposited.
The MBTA uses an industry leading software system for cash processing. The MBTA is confident that cash counts in this system correctly reflect fare box deposits. Upon the implementation of the CharlieCard fare collection system in 2006, the plan was to reconcile cash processing counts to the fare collection system. This integration has proved more complicated than originally thought. The MBTA is confident in the data from the cash processing system.
The MBTA has undertaken a reorganization of its Automated Fare Collection program in recent months. As the automated fare collection project implementation is completed, this reorganization ensures all fare collection roles and responsibilities have be realigned within the organization.