DPU trying to double size of its MBTA oversight staff

Hiring scramble comes as lawmakers call officials to testify

THE STATE DEPARTMENT of Public Utilities, which is coming under fire for its poor oversight of the MBTA’s safety practices, appears to be trying to double the size of its transportation division.

In a statement, the agency said it currently has eight positions, three of which are vacant.  It also appears to be recruiting seven additional staffers, including new postings for a director and assistant director of rail oversight.

The staffing issue is likely to be a major topic at a legislative oversight hearing scheduled for Wednesday that is expected to focus on the safety practices of the MBTA and the safety oversight of the T provided by the DPU.

Matthew Nelson, the chair of the DPU, and Elizabeth Cellucci, the head of the agency’s transportation oversight division, are being called to testify, as is Betsy Taylor, the chair of the MBTA board of directors.

Officials from the Federal Transit Administration, which issued a report highly critical of the MBTA and DPU on August 31, declined to testify.

The safety problems at the MBTA have received widespread attention, but the oversight issues with the DPU have received relatively little notice.

The DPU is charged with monitoring the MBTA’s safety plans and making sure those plans are carried out.

In a June interim report, the Federal Transit Administration raised concerns about the DPU’s ability to carry out its duties. The FTA noted it found 16 areas of noncompliance in an October 2019 review but only nine of them had been addressed over the previous 2 ½ years.

“The fact that these seven findings remain open gives rise to concerns regarding the DPU’s ability to effectively oversee the MBTA’s compliance with its own practices and procedures,” the FTA said.

In its final report, released on August 31, the FTA said “staffing levels [at the DPU] are not commensurate with the actual oversight needs of MBTA.”

The FTA report said the DPU had increased its staffing since 2019, but it questioned whether the current level of a director and six full-time employees was sufficient. The FTA report also raised concerns about the independence of the DPU and its ability to regulate the MBTA when both the MBTA and DPU ultimately report to the governor.

According to the statement issued by the DPU on Monday, the agency now has a director, an assistant director, and positions for six full-time employees, three of which are vacant.  The agency is also trying to hire five new employees, another assistant director, and a director of rail oversight.

Nearly all of the current job openings were posted after the FTA began its safety review of the MBTA in April.

In the FTA’s August 31 report, the agency said many of the DPU;’s employees “are relatively new and still learning.” With all the additional hires in the works, that situation is unlikely to change soon.