Poftak says he is stepping down at T on Jan. 3

General manager shouldered much of blame for safety issues

STEVE POFTAK, the embattled general manager of the MBTA who shouldered much of the blame for recent safety incidents at the transit authority, announced on Tuesday that he will resign his post on January 3, two days before the next governor takes office.

Poftak’s departure, while expected, accelerates the timetable for the next governor to name a replacement and make decisions about the future management and responsibilities of the agency. One chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee has already called for a fairly radical restructuring of the MBTA.

In a letter sent to employees, Poftak said he was sharing news about his departure with “mixed emotions” and added that he would spend his final months in the job preparing for a transition to a new administration and new leadership at the MBTA. An MBTA spokesman said Poftak will receive no severance package.

“While we faced and will continue to face challenges, I believe in the strength and resilience of the MBTA. As I look back on my four years as general manager, I take great pride in what we have accomplished together,” he wrote in his letter to employees.

“We kept service going (and made it better) through a global pandemic. In a world where a lot of people stayed home, the
MBTA was out there serving our transit dependent customers. And while we know we have more work to do on safety, we have made great strides as an organization, building staffing, expertise, and above all commitment to make the system as safe as it can be.”

Poftak came to the MBTA as an unpaid member of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, which was appointed in 2015 in the aftermath of snowmageddon and the total collapse of the transit authority.

At the end of 2018, after the abrupt departure of Luis Ramirez, he took over the general manager’s post and managed the agency for four years during the height of COVID and through a series of safety incidents and two safety reviews, one in 2019 by a panel hired by the MBTA and a second in 2022 by the Federal Transit Administration. Both reviews criticized the agency for lax attention to safety issues.

Poftak, like his predecessor, had little formal background in managing a transit agency. But he was much more at ease in the job and his plain-spoken earnestness won him many fans. After Ramirez’s ouster after just 15 months on the job, former Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said it was time for a change.

“The time has come to see visible improvements in performance and Steve is the right guy to do that,” she said.

Poftak was the fifth MBTA general manager under Gov. Charlie Baker, who on Tuesday issued a statement thanking him for his service. “Steve brought long term stability to the T when it was sorely needed and under his leadership the MBTA has upgraded more infrastructure and vehicles than during any prior period,” Baker said. “The T workforce showed up every day during the pandemic when most could stay at home, and thanks to Steve’s leadership during that period, Steve and his team have continued to build a better T every day.”

The last six months have been brutal for Poftak, starting with a series of safety incidents, including the death of one passenger at Broadway Station on the Red Line, and continuing with the Federal Transit Administration safety review and the controversial shutdown of the Orange Line with little immediate improvement in service, as he had promised.

The Federal Transit Administration didn’t criticize Poftak in its safety review and a spokeswoman for Maura Healey, the Democratic candidate for governor, said at the time that it wasn’t a given she would replace the general manager if she was elected.

Meet the Author

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.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey hammered him at an October 14  hearing in Boston, questioning his competence and his honesty in dealing with riders. Warren called for a top-to-bottom change in leadership and on Tuesday said Poftak’s resignation “is long overdue. We now have a critical opportunity to make much-needed changes and ensure our public transit system is safe, reliable, and first-rate. With visionary leadership, sufficient resources, and effective oversight, we can get the T back on track for its riders and workers – and the people of Massachusetts deserve nothing less. ”

At an oversight hearing before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee last week, former US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood acknowledged the need for new leadership but nevertheless praised Poftak’s performance. LaHood said he worked closely with Poftak during the 2019 safety review and said he came away impressed with the general manager’s efforts to build a safety culture at the T.

“Unfortunately, COVID hit,” LaHood said. “I believe, right up to the point of COVID, he was doing a good job. He was carrying out the recommendations. He was trying to implement the safety culture that I’ve talked about. Then COVID put an end to all of that.”