Two key lawmakers say MBTA needs money, but also change
A correction has been added to this story.
TWO KEY Beacon Hill transportation leaders say their focus in the coming year will be on finding additional resources for the MBTA, and one of them said specifically that the new money must be accompanied by a change in leadership at the transit authority.
The two chairs of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee – Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn and Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett – said on The Codcast that the MBTA is facing serious challenges and Straus said new leadership is needed to move forward. Crighton highlighted a number of problems at the T, but said he is focused for now on working with the existing leadership at the T. (CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Sen. Crighton also wanted new leadership at the T. He said he agreed with Straus, but stopped short of saying new leadership was needed.)
Crighton said most of the safety challenges highlighted by the Federal Transit Administration earlier this year were first identified in 2019 by a special safety panel of outside experts recruited by the former oversight board of the T.
“What’s most striking is the lack of progress that has been made since 2019,” said Crighton.
“You’re talking about a collapse in communication at the MBTA,” Crighton said. “I think the way the MBTA communicates with the outside, with the Legislature, with the administration, with the public, but also internally with workers not feeling empowered to raise major safety issues, it is an organization that is operating without sound communication which has led to serious dysfunction.”
Straus said he couldn’t agree more. “The way in which leadership and leadership decisions have been made with regard to the T have failed the public,” he said.
Straus said the agency needs transportation professionals at the helm. “Transportation is the kind of public service that I think needs to be managed and overseen by professionals who spent a career successfully in this field,” he said.
“I think at the upper 1, 2, 3 management levels at the T, you’re going to need a dramatic shakeup,” Straus said. “The current general manager is thoughtful, smart, sincere, wants to do a good job, but he reflects that history of coming from the outside world into a really complicated management position.”
Straus said the secretary of transportation should also perhaps come from a hands-on transportation background. He noted Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker followed that route in appointing a 30-year veteran of the agency in 2019.
“There’s plenty of roles and plenty of place for policy people to express their thoughts, but, in terms of the direct delivery of transportation services, we want professionals doing this,” he said.
On the money front, both lawmakers said they would push for more funding for transportation next year. “I can guarantee you that in the next session funding issues, not just for the T but all of transportation, will be front and center,” Straus said.
Both lawmakers said the Legislature has repeatedly asked the Baker administration whether additional funding was needed, and was told no. Now, at their most recent oversight hearing, MBTA officials said more money is needed. “That would have been helpful years ago,” he said.
Crighton said passage of the constitutional amendment assessing a 4 percent surcharge on income over $1 million should help. He also said it’s time to have a discussion about “mobility pricing,:” particularly since revenues from the gas tax will continue to shrink as cars shifting to running on electricity.
“We need to take a fresh look at it. A lot has changed during the pandemic,” he said.
The two lawmakers also said they would like to see the board that oversees the MBTA be less reactive and more proactive in dealing with issues at the T. Crighton said the previous board pushed for a number of initiatives – electrification of commuter rail and means-tested fares – that have largely been ignored by the current board.
“They had a little more freedom to pursue ideas. Unfortunately, many of those weren’t put into practice,” he said.
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