MBTA still unsure when it can resume operations

General Manager Beverly Scott defends response, makes no promises if more snow falls Thursday

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

WITH ITS RAIL service shut down, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott on Tuesday defended the transit system’s response to historic snow amounts and said she would not know when the rail system could resume operations until later Tuesday afternoon.

During a late-morning press conference, Scott said she could not assure the public that the transit system will run reliably if more snow falls on Thursday.

“We appreciate the fact that we’re going to have to make a call in terms of what we’re going to do at least by later on this afternoon,” Scott told reporters, saying she should have more information about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. She said, “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Scott, who suspended rail service on the MBTA Monday night, said she made the decision to halt service because of slippery third rails and too much snow accumulation on the tracks, as well as train evacuations that occurred during the snowstorm. Scott there were 50 disabled trains across the system Monday and three situations where people had to leave stalled trains.

The Ride, a door-to-door paratransit system, is running as are buses, Scott said. Scott, who has worked around the country before, said, “What happened here, it would have taken anybody down.”

Gov. Charlie Baker has said he found it hard to rely on representations made by MBTA officials, and called the MBTA’s handling of the snow “unacceptable.”

“I can sleep at night with no equivocation about the fact that to the extent that we had information, everyone that needed to have information to our knowledge had it regarding the conditions that we were facing – understanding the fact that those conditions are very dynamic,” Scott said. “We do not control Mother Nature.”

Baker and Scott plan to meet Thursday. Scott said it would be her first meeting with Baker.

Scott tried to diminish her role in the situation, and said the “silver lining” would be a discussion of long-term investment in the MBTA.

“Just take Bev out the picture. Just take Bev out the picture,” Scott said. “If there is a silver lining please can we be talking about the long term – yes, the T needs to be efficient. It needs to push itself, but this is not just about cutting cost. You could cut every cost you wanted over here and that is not in fact going to wind up taking the place for what has to be systemic, planned, serious, bold reinvestment in terms of this doggone transportation system – not just to wind up keeping it where it is, but to wind up making it be what it can absolutely be in terms of being a modern, top-notch, serving-with-pride transportation system.”

Baker, during his first press briefing of the day on storm cleanup, said he did not watch Scott’s press conference, but brushed aside questions about why he hasn’t spoken directly to the MBTA chief about the system’s performance.

Repeatedly insisting he has no direct oversight of the transit agency, Baker said he has relied on his Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who sits on the seven-member MBTA board.

“Don’t overplay this one, Ok. I mean the long story short is Secretary Pollack sits on the board. She talks to the folks at the MBTA all day. I talk to Secretary Pollack all day. There’s a lot of dialogue.”

As she considers how to proceed, Scott said she wants to know how many trains the system can “sustain over the next two to three week period of time.” Scott said she is looking at how much track in yards has been cleared, the number of available trains and the status of track equipment.

“A disabled train in and of itself is not something that would shut down a railroad. But the accumulation of looking at things and then understanding that I don’t really have the alternates because my crossovers are not functional – those are the kinds of complex of things that go into helping you make the decision that says, ‘Can I run this railroad?'” Scott said, praising the public for its patience.

Much of the work required on the snowbound system requires “brute strength,” Scott said.

“When we talk about things like the switches and the signals, I don’t have any buttons I can push,” Scott said. “You are talking about people literally out there with pickaxes, shovels and propane tanks that are getting those old switches.”

Asked directly whether he would fire Scott if he had the authority, Baker said, “Look, I’ve said this several times. Beverly Scott is doing everything she possibly can, and I’m not going to have any comment at all with respect to any of this.”

He continued, “First of all, I don’t have the authority, and secondly, I’m not going to have a comment on any of this until I have a chance to have a direct conversation with the T about why they didn’t live up to the representations they made to us and to others over the course of the past two weeks and what their plans are with respect to how they’re going to manage through the rest of this winter and into the spring and the summer and next year.”

Baker said he knows that “many of the people at the T have been working 24/7 for the past two weeks to keep as much of the system operation as possible and I would include absolutely the general manager in my commentary on that.”

Asked if she should resign, Scott said, “I’m not even getting into those conversations,” and said, “I’ve always been part of the team, and so I’m not a confused person at all, but I’ll tell you the honest-to-God truth, I love what I do… I’ve always laughed and told people, ‘If you ever think that there’s anybody else who can do it better, they should do it.”

The governor also said it was premature to start talking about raising new revenue to pay for upgrades in the public transit system, pointing out that the gas tax was just raised by 3 cents, putting additional money into the MBTA.

“My view on this continues to be the same which is we need to start from the premise that the taxpayers have been taxed enough,” Baker said.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Democratic legislative leaders and former Gov. Deval Patrick first approved reforms to make the transportation system more efficient and then in 2013 passed new revenues for transportation, touting their approach as one that met the system’s needs across Massachusetts.

Lawmakers and Patrick in 2013 quickly repealed a computer services tax passed to pay for transportation and then, last November, voters okayed a ballot question repealing the 2013 law indexing the gas tax to inflation.