How the MBTA general manager wins friends and influences people

Newton Mayor David Cohen, chairman of the MBTA Advisory Board, is the latest public official to side with MBTA general manager Dan Grabauskas in the still-smoldering MBTA civil war.

In a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick, Cohen related how Grabauskas comported himself after the 2008 Green Line collision that killed Therese Edmonds, the operator of one of the two trains involved in the crash:

I also bore witness to Mr. Grabauskas’ leadership skills and compassion during the tragic night of May 28, 2008 when a trolley operator lost her life in an accident that took place in Newton. During the most difficult of circumstances, Mr. Grabauskas took control of the incident, managing communications with the affected family, media and the personnel on the ground. Throughout this very unfortunate and volatile event, Dan Grabauskas’ leadership abilities made what was a truly tragic event as bearable as possible for the individuals involved.

In their letter to Transportation Secretary James Aloisi, three board members took issue with Grabaukas's "focus and commitment" and said that he "seems out of touch."

Cohen also noted that the general manager “is being unfairly blamed for a financial crisis which he has been warning us of since the day he took office, and which he has been working diligently to avert."

The mayor also outlined his take on the efficiencies and savings during the general manager's tenure, including:

  • Automated fare collection
  • MBTA personnel reductions along with "dramatic" reductions in absenteeism and overtime
  • Savings in health insurance via changes in co-pays and plan design
  • Freezes on managers' salaries
  • Improvements in  vehicle purchasing
  • Introduction of a new GPS system and "rigorous" management on-time performance metrics
  • Purchase of new buses and rapid transit vehicles
  • Increased emphasis on cleaning contracts for stations and vehicles
  • Improved state of good repair using "precious" discretionary capital dollars.
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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

On that last point, Cohen said that Grabauskas's "management of capital spending has, in my opinion, saved the T.”

The MBTA Advisory Board provides public oversight of the T along with technical assistance and information on behalf of the 175 member municipalities and T riders. Cohen is in his sixth year as chairman. The group approves the MBTA budget and works on capital planning and other programs.