Mission Impossible II: MBTA Crisis Management

Good afternoon, Mr. Mullan.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is plagued by many problems, among them multibillion debt, aging infrastructure, and a significant cohort of employees for whom customer service is an oxymoron. But the biggest problem facing the average commuter, Mr. Mullan, is the stark inability of the MBTA to handle the mini-crises that erupt on a regular basis.

As you are aware, on Wednesday night both the Red and Orange Lines were closed for several hours, forcing hundreds of commuters and tourists to struggle with the MBTA's obtuse deployment of bus shuttle services. Those who tried alternatives, such as accessing regularly scheduled bus services, were forced into long waits for them (or still longer waits when overcrowded buses passed them by). Others resorted to expensive cab rides or recruited family and friends for pick-ups by car.

While no one can foresee crises, the customers of the country's fifth largest mass transit system should not have to endure consistently inept crisis management.

As the new transportation secretary, Mr. Mullan, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to identify the managers responsible for taking charge of rail system emergencies. Those managers should receive a new mandate: the introduction of fail-safe procedures that ensure that all passengers (especially those stranded in tunnels between stations) receive timely and accurate information about incidents; that employees are deployed in affected areas with technologies that allow them to communicate with large numbers of people, that shuttle services become dependable modes of transport to be used instead of avoided; and that the MBTA website, rather than Universal Hub or Boston.com, becomes the go-to source for real time news about system failures.

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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.

If those managers cannot improve the MBTA's performance during the next subway line crisis, you should identify and replace those individuals.

Good luck, Mr. Mullan.