New T board members set different tone
Ask more questions, may extend length of meetings
THE MBTA BOARD under new chair Tom Glynn is going to be different, judging from the way three subcommittees of the board handled themselves on Thursday.
Right from the start, board members were peppering T staffers with questions, demanding more information, and offering suggestions on ways to improve operations.
It was a marked contrast from the board under Betsy Taylor, who Gov. Maura Healey replaced along with two other members of the seven-person panel on April 21.
Under Taylor, the board let T staff set the agenda. Members asked relatively few questions, rarely pressed T staffers on the spate of problems facing the agency, and showed little curiosity about MBTA operations.
T officials promised to get back to Glynn on the first two questions, but the answer to the third – on Big Dig debt — was $1 billion. Nearly a fifth of the MBTA’s $5.56 billion in debt is related to transit mitigation projects the T was ordered to carry out to allow the Big Dig to move forward.
Eric Goodwine, another new appointee to the MBTA board and the chair of the finance subcommittee, said at the end of the meeting that an hour wasn’t long enough. He indicated he was in favor of extending the length of subcommittee meetings to one and a half hours. Glynn and fellow new board member Tom McGee, a former state senator and former mayor of Lynn, indicated they were with him.
At the planning and workforce development subcommittee meeting, the board members appeared frustrated at the slow pace of hiring for bus drivers and other positions. Chanda Smart urged T human resource officials to start thinking more radically.
She said the current $7,500 sign-on bonus was good, but not enough to sway people struggling financially in the Boston area. She also pounced on a T requirement that job applicants must have a driver’s license, even for positions that don’t require any driving.
“If that’s a disqualifier, we’re missing a lot of talent,” she said.
Robert Butler, the board’s union representative, said maybe the T should pay drivers more for working at night. He also questioned whether human resources personnel should be working remotely.
Thomas Koch, the chair of the subcommittee and the mayor of Quincy, ended the meeting by telling the T officials: “You guys have some homework to do.”
Glynn asked Lavin what he thought about a debate currently taking place in the Legislature – whether oversight of safety issues at the T should remain with the Department of Public Utilities, be transferred to the inspector general’s office, or be moved to a new independent agency.
“I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen with the DPU,” Lavin said.Lavin also schooled T staffers on how they should respond to the board’s questions about safety data, how to break down the information to get at issues that need to be addressed.
Glynn thanked one of the T safety staffers for his patience in answering the subcommittee’s questions. “We’re trying to be a little more engaged,” Glynn said.