The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) is one of the largest and most diverse transit authorities in the United States. Operating multiple type of rail lines, multiple types of buses, and water ferries, the MBTA serves the greater Boston area and is a critical component of transit infrastructure in New England.
The Challenge of Complex Public Asset Management
As a public entity, the MBTA is accountable to Massachusetts government and the taxpayers for its use of public dollars to establish and maintain a healthy public transit system. Because the transit authority is so diverse in its offerings, the range of assets to manage and maintain is just as diverse — and complex. The MBTA must track, manage, and maintain fleets of vehicles as well as station equipment and administrative tools, even bridges and tunnels, balancing need with funding constraints. The MBTA must also be able to project replacements costs of assets, and establish contingencies for unexpected situations. Funding for the entire MBTA program depends on the ability of the agency to manage this fiscal responsibility successfully and efficiently.
To this end, the MBTA partnered with AECOM to development of the State of Good Repair (SGR) database in 1999, a budgeting and analysis tool designed to manage the assets of the transit authority. Using this tool, initially developed on the desktop using Microsoft Access, MBTA administration track every asset owned by the authority, produce reports, and direct relevant budgeting and funding requests. However, the initial iteration of the SGR database aged along with the assets it managed; data access and reporting was slow, and user access to the platform was limited. The MBTA sought to leverage newer technologies to manage the critical functions more robustly and accurately. The MBTA turned to longtime partner AECOM, and AECOM in turn called on Greystone.
The Greystone Approach
The existing SGR database was working, but it could be working better, and the desktop implementation was not as flexible as it needed to be. After a years-long initial attempt by another vendor to transition the SGR from Microsoft Access to a server-based database was unsuccessful, subject matter experts AECOM brought Greystone on board to apply the right technology for an optimized SGR solution. Working closely with both the MBTA and AECOM, Greystone was able to complete a rebuild of the SGR database in three months, and the database was deployed in May, 2012.
Initially developed in the cloud, then deployed locally on MBTA hardware, the updated database is built on SQL Server with a browser-based front end, resulting in a more usable, more resilient and more flexible platform for the MBTA for the long term. Data access is faster on the server-based SGR, tasks are distributed, and multiple users encompassing varying roles can access the SGR at the same time: MBTA staff analyzing maintenance metrics and senior management running budget reports can use the SGR at the same time with reliable data access and response performance.
Maximizing SGR to Build Better Infrastructure
The ability of the MBTA to appropriately manage millions of dollars in public funds directly impacts public trust — and future funding. Migrating the SGR to a more robust and flexible database platform allows the MBTA meet this part of it’s mission, and opens up the opportunity for the transit authority to further refine maintenance and replacement algorithms. This in turn will lead to more reliable transit services and better fiscal management of the authority, an issue that is particularly critical during tight budgetary cycles. The SGR as rebuilt by Greystone doesn’t just meet the usability needs of the employees of the transit authority, it meets the fiscal and service responsibility needs of the commonwealth’s taxpayers.