Lerch Bates Inc. Building Insight

Global Leaders in Technical Consulting for the Building Industry


How many times have we all heard or used the phrase “put things into perspective” in some way, shape or form? I’m willing to bet quite a few….Let’s face it, the phrase sounds wise, meaningful and perhaps even a bit philosophical… but what does it really mean? Not to be confused with the more urban “wake up and smell the coffee” or the general act of soul searching, is this one of many (probably countless) phrases that is used so often that it lacks relevance to any given application or situation?

I don’t believe so.

A quick check of a handy on-line dictionary yields several definitions of the word perspective. Here’s my choice:

“The proper or accurate point of view or the ability to see it.”

As summer is quickly waning, I find myself looking forward to the fall season (yes, my favorite) for a number of reasons: cooler weather, brilliant foliage, pumpkin anything, Halloween, etc. Soon enough, winter will be here and before you know it, the cycle begins again. Every year is getting shorter, and often times it’s the simple things in life that we tend to overlook amidst the hustle and bustle of society today. Little moments can have great importance.

Before I was ready to say good-bye to summer, one event caused me to stop and reflect. This past July 26th marked the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, having been signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based upon disability. Without delving into the law, suffice is to say that there was (and is still) reason to celebrate.

Over the past several years, I had an opportunity to get to know and work with many folks associated with the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL). The BCIL, an organization that provides a variety of services to people with disabilities, filed a class-action lawsuit in 2002 against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) for violations of the ADA. Though the lawsuit contained operational and infrastructure issues associated with the transit agency, elevator performance was a rather significant subject. A settlement agreement was reached in 2006; with an excerpt from the introduction section as follows:

“There is a mutual commitment and desire to comply not only with the letter but also the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act, with the complete understanding that all people with disabilities must have every opportunity to be fully participating members of our community and that fundamental to this opportunity is the right and ability to use public transportation in an equal, effective and dignified manner.”

Unbeknownst at the time, this particular statement would turn out to have a profound impact.

The settlement agreement contained very specific requirements for elevator management, maintenance, performance, upgrades and replacements. In support of the mutual commitment, the MBTA instituted sweeping changes. A new performance-based maintenance contract with KONE was procured, a first-ever team management strategy with Lerch Bates was implemented, and capital funding was allocated for equipment upgrades and replacements.

In the period just prior to the settlement agreement having been reached, elevator operational availability averaged in the low-90’s percentile on a monthly basis. This statistic sheds light on an individual’s ability to access and utilize the transit system. A very noticeable turnaround resulted from the afore-mentioned changes. Elevator operational availability increased dramatically, with current figures averaging in the high 99 percentile on a consistent monthly basis.

The MBTA’s vertical transportation system underwent a pivotal transformation such that public transportation is reliably accessible. Many stakeholders worked tirelessly to envision a new concept and orchestrate an innovative solution. The expectation remains that this type of hard work and effort will continue as equipment replacement programs proceed.

In June 2010, a Joint Initial Assessment that evaluated progress towards compliance in the settlement agreement’s major subject matter areas was published. Elevator availability was specifically highlighted and noted therein as exceeding expectations; this area having achieved excellent results. Positive results and good-news stories are always welcome (especially in a time when there are too few). But, surely there must be something beyond the numbers and legalese?

You bet…for me, there were two defining moments. The first moment occurred in June 2008 when a representative of the plaintiffs addressed the MBTA Board of Directors at a monthly meeting and characterized the elevator performance turnaround as ‘nothing short of miraculous’. The individual continued by stating that folks are able to access the system to go to work, go shopping, go to a doctor’s appointment….basically the normal day-to-day activities that most take for granted. The second moment occurred at an April 2009 summit to discuss the settlement agreement status. At this forum, one of the named plaintiffs addressed the subject of elevator performance by simply saying ‘thank-you, thank-you, thank-you”.

It all makes perfect sense, and I can almost smell that pumpkin spice coffee.

Leave a Reply