3 steps for turning around the MBTA

Keys are more money, representative board, and low-income fare

MONTH-LONG SHUTDOWNS, frequent and serious accidents, a fire on the Orange Line, debilitating worker shortages, and a system so dysfunctional that it was facing takeover by the federal government — all of these events illustrate the systemwide crisis at the MBTA. 

With a new administration on the horizon, however, our hopes are high for real and lasting change. On the campaign trail, Gov.-elect Maura Healey shared a vision for transportation that foregrounds equity and safety. As she and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll take office, there are three steps they can take right away to begin making that vision a reality.  

First, the new administration can and should direct the MBTA to adopt a low-income fare immediately. Healey has already expressed her support for this popular policy, which will make transportation more affordable for more than 90,000 bus, subway, and commuter rail and paratransit users. Steadily rising transit fares have made it tougher for those already on a tight budget, especially for working families and communities of color who rely on public transit to get around. With a low-income fare, qualifying riders on all modes would save 50 percent or more, for an average savings of nearly $500 per year.

A low-income fare will improve equity by strengthening the household finances of tens of thousands of working families at a time when far too many people are seeing their paychecks evaporate due to the skyrocketing costs of heating, gas, and housing. 

Healey can move this policy on day one, by directing the MBTA to begin implementing a policy it has studied for years. And she can ensure the funding is available by including it in her first state budget. 

Second, Healey’s action plan must ensure transit safety. The Federal Transit Administration’s scathing 2022 Safety Management Inspection report blasted MBTA management for slashing its workforce and failing to maintain enough staff for safety-critical and operating positions, resulting in a dangerous workplace, increased risk to riders and workers, widespread delays, and unprecedented rapid transit shutdowns.

A state famous for designing and creating the first subway in America shouldn’t be famous for having its trains catch fire and passengers jumping out of smoking cars and into the river below. It’s past time to adequately fund initiatives at the MBTA so that every rider and worker can safely get to their destination.

Healey can make the MBTA safer for commuters and workers by ensuring the system has what it needs to catch up on deferred maintenance; replace and repair outdated or faulty equipment; and recruit, hire, train, and retain the workers who operate and maintain the MBTA. Happily, the Legislature and Department of Transportation have already moved more than $500 million to the MBTA to address safety issues and more could become available through the new millionaire tax.

And third, to truly strengthen our public transit system, transit riders and workers must have a seat at the table. Transit riders and workers understand the need for change more clearly than anyone, and they’re ready to help build a new system. If Healey reforms MBTA governance, she should retain a board seat for a labor representative chosen from nominees from the Mass AFL-CIO, as well as a seat for a rider from an environmental justice (EJ) community. For true equity, the EJ rider seat must be filled by an individual with the support of local EJ organizations

Our Commonwealth has the resources for the new administration to end the crisis that is the MBTA and provide Massachusetts residents with the high-quality transit system we deserve. We are optimistic that the Healey administration has the political will and leadership to act. From riders to workers and beyond, everyone agrees that the MBTA must be made safer and more equitable to truly serve the public good. Now is the time for action.

Mitikei Chengerei is a member of GreenRoots of Chelsea and Jeb Mastandrea is president of District 15 of the International Association of Machinists.