Baker’s approach to T epitomizes his leadership style

Analytical, diligent, cautious, and at times lacking inspiration

GOV. CHARLIE BAKERBeacon Hill’s Mr. Fix-it, is taking a lot of heat over the Red Line derailment on Tuesday.

A Boston Globe editorial – titled “Going off the rails on Charlie Baker’s train – warns the T is his Achilles heel as he lays plans to seek a third term.

Beacon Hill analyst Michael Widmer notes Baker is thinking about running for a third term to complete the things he’s started, but says at the pace he’s going he may need a fourth term to finish the job at the T.

And the Boston Herald’s Howie Carr suggests Baker’s third term dreams must be a joke. “What’s the T’s new slogan?” Howie asks. “Next time, take the bus.”

Such criticism comes with the job, but in a lot of ways it misses the point. The Red Line derailment was and still lingers as a commuter nightmare, but from Baker’s perspective it’s not a reason to suddenly shift gears and move in a different direction. It’s just another reminder of how far the T must travel to recover from years of disinvestment.

Baker’s approach to the T epitomizes his leadership style – analytical, diligent, cautious, and at times lacking inspiration.

After the snowmageddon of 2015, the governor promised to turn the T around. Over the last four years, he has brought stability to the organization, put it on the right path, and set the stage for a turnaround. Progress has been painfully slow but, as Baker insisted this week, “we’re headed in the right direction.”

Even so, there have been a lot of bumps along the way. The hiring of Luis Ramirez (remember him?) as general manager may have been one of the bigger bumps. Hiring in general is a problem: This year the transit authority will hire more people than it loses through attrition for the first time in years. South Coast Rail, a campaign promise of Baker’s, may be good transportation policy, but it’s unclear whether a $1 billion service expansion makes sense when the T’s core service continues to struggle.

Baker is also too cautious. His refusal to even discuss the need for additional revenue makes little sense. He says the T can’t spend the money it has now, which is a fair point. But there is growing consensus that the T will need additional revenues in the future. His own Fiscal and Management Control Board is trying to craft a statement on new revenues, and it will be interesting to see if Baker rejects the advice of the very people he personally selected to help him turn around the T.

Finally, there is his lack of interest in experimenting with new approaches and his unwillingness to even ride the T. He doesn’t need to step on board a train to fix the system, but his refusal to do so shows an unwillingness to connect with T riders on a personal level. (He might take a cue from a certain predecessor who still manages to hop aboard regularly at age 85.)

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, who skillfully uses her own personal experiences on transit to connect with riders, suggested the governor’s unwillingness to ride a train leaves him out of touch. “Is there any daily @MBTAcommuter who agrees with @CharlieBakerMA that service is moving in the right direction? Anyone? Has anyone ever seen the Gov taking public transit? Even 1 time?” she asked.

What you see is what you get with Baker. He may be frustrating at times, but this is the same politician who overwhelmingly defeated Democrat Jay Gonzalez in the last election even though Gonzalez repeatedly challenged Baker’s cautious approach on the T and promised huge investments in the transit agency. He’s the same politician who twice won the Globe’s endorsement for governor. And he’s the same politician who 66 percent of voters think should run for a third term even though 60 percent of those same voters think their commute is getting worse.