T control board to remain largely intact

Aiello: Priority is planning for uncertain future

THE MBTA’S FISCAL AND MANAGEMENT CONTROL BOARD will remain largely intact going forward, as four of the five members, including chair Joseph Aiello, have decided to stay on for the coming year.

Aiello, who had previously indicated he intended to step down, said his immediate priority is helping the T plan for a very uncertain future. He said the transit authority is likely to face several years of budgetary and operational uncertainty, particularly if the impact of COVID-19 results in far fewer people commuting into downtown Boston.

The T earlier this year was operating in an environment where congestion on the roads was oppressive and the transit authority’s primary mission was to improve service and upgrade its assets. The MBTA successfully increased its capital spending and is in the midst of modernizing the Red and Orange Lines, building a rail extension from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford, and refashioning commuter rail into a more subway-like system.

Now the transit environment is very different. Commuter rail trains today operate with almost no passengers. Ridership on buses and subways is trending upward but still way below pre-COVID levels. Aiello said he expects T ridership to pick up once a vaccine for the coronavirus is developed, but he worries that the work-from-home environment that COVID created could be long lasting. He said it’s unclear whether those who commute to work in the future will do so by car or by transit.

Aiello declined to comment on any discussions he had with Gov. Charlie Baker, but it’s likely the governor wanted to avoid a disruption in oversight of the agency at a very uncertain time. The MBTA balanced its fiscal 2021 budget using federal COVID-relief revenues, money that is likely to disappear in fiscal 2022. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation said in a recent report that the agency’s fiscal situation is worse now than it was when the control board was created in 2015.

Aiello said the control board is ready for the challenge. “Given the opportunity presented by the governor to continue to serve, I’m delighted to do so,” he said. “I’m here, we’re back, the four of us.”

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, the vice chair of the control board, said retaining board continuity should be  beneficial. “There’s so much uncertainty and so many projects right in the middle,” she said. “It would be very difficult for a new board to step in immediately.”

In accord with the law that established it following the snowmageddon of 2015, the control board operated for five years and then shut down at the end of June. Baker, the House, and Senate had all pursued the creation of a new board, but those negotiations went nowhere and lawmakers decided to extend the life of the existing board for another year.

At their last meeting on June 22, before the legislative extension was approved, all five board members said goodbye and offered advice for a new board. The expectation at the time was that Brian Shortsleeve, who submitted his resignation, and Aiello and Brian Lang would all be leaving. Ultimately, however, Aiello, Lang, Tibbits-Nutt, and Chrystal Kornegay decided to stay on.

Baker has not yet named a replacement for Shortsleeve. To give the governor more time to find someone, the control board currently has no meetings planned until August.

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.

Aiello urged transit advocates, municipal officials, and business leaders to remain involved during the T’s deliberations and to keep pressing for change.

“We’re going to need these constituencies more than ever,” he said. “Stay engaged and help us think how to get through the next stages of the T’s life.”