New MBTA board holds first meeting

Sets up subcommittees to tackle specific subjects

A correction has been added to this story.

THE NEW PERMANENT MBTA board of directors met for the first time on Wednesday, and adopted a more decentralized approach to overseeing the transit authority.

Under chair Betsy Taylor, the board intends to meet once a month and turn over some of the nitty gritty work to three subcommittees dealing with finances, safety, and planning and workforce training. The framework is similar to the approach used by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board.

Under the T’s old Fiscal and Management Control Board, which sunsetted in June, the panel did not use subcommittees and dealt with most issues as a group, although individual members often served as subject-matter experts on specific topics and regularly met with T officials to discuss them. The new board has seven members, while the control board had five.

Jamey Tesler, the secretary of transportation and a member of the new T board, indicated the new board will meet significantly less than the old one. He said the old board met 218 times over its six-year existence, which works out to an average of 36 a year. [The number of meetings has been corrected. While Tesler gave the number as 280 during the meeting, a spokesperson for MassDOT said the actual number is 218.]

Much of the new board’s first meeting was devoted to setting up the committee structure, appointing members to the panels, and electing Quincy Mayor Tom Koch as vice chair. The meeting last one hour and 47 minutes.

In the public comment period prior to the start of the meeting, five transportation advocates urged the board to move ahead quickly with a pilot project testing the viability of means-tested fares – fares based on the income level of the rider. Most of the advocates urged the board to get the pilot up and running during the current fiscal year; the control board had directed T staff to have pilot options ready for the board this month.

But the board and T General Manager Steve Poftak never addressed means-tested fares and didn’t discuss when the next meeting will be held or what would be taken up at it or future meetings. Poftak said last week that he didn’t know when means-tested fares would be taken up.

In his presentation to the board, Poftak said high winds knocked down trees Tuesday morning that hampered service on the Braintree branch of the Red Line, the Mattapan trolley, and commuter rail. He said replacement buses were temporarily deployed on the Red Line and Mattapan trolley, which led to unusually crowded trains for a period of time on the Red Line.

Poftak also reported that ridership overall on the transit system continues to improve but remains well below pre-pandemic levels. Ridership on buses and the Blue Line are at about 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels, while traffic on subways is at 50 percent and 45 percent on commuter rail, he said.

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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.

Poftak disclosed little specific about MBTA employee compliance with the state’s vaccination mandate. He said no workers have been suspended yet for noncompliance and there have been a number of requests for medical and religious exemptions, which haven’t been processed yet.

The T board also approved a series of contracts, including a $47.6 million agreement with Barletta Construction to rebuild the closed commuter rail station in Winchester center. Board member Travis McCready asked how much of the contract award would be going to minority business contracts and was told 20 percent would be the target.