T director says new revenue not priority now

Poftak says executing on projects in pipeline is key

THE VICE CHAIRMAN of the MBTA’s oversight board said on Monday that the transit agency needs to execute on projects in the pipeline before considering whether new revenues are needed.

Steven Poftak made his comments after a meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board where he and other directors discussed the Red Line train derailment last Wednesday that damaged power supply to a 300-foot section of the track. Officials said they still haven’t traced the root cause of the derailment, which disrupted service and required passengers to take buses between JFK/UMass and Broadway from 9:20 a.m. until 5:20 p.m.

“We take these incidents very seriously,” Poftak said, but pointed out that the T is in the midst of purchasing 404 new Red and Orange Line vehicles and spending $1 billion on infrastructure improvements on those two lines. He said the agency is also looking to improve service on the Green Line.

“There is a vision here and we are creating a more reliable system,” he said.

After the meeting, Poftak was pressed on why the members of the control board never discuss whether new revenues are needed for the transit agency, as many transportation advocates and the Democratic candidates for governor have suggested is necessary. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren, for example, criticized the Baker administration for considering fare increases next year but refusing to consider funneling more tax revenue to the T.

“I didn’t speak to that,” Poftak said, referring to new revenues. “I spoke to what’s funded and in the pipeline. Let’s execute on that.”

Asked if his response meant he didn’t think the T needed additional revenue, Poftak said: “I didn’t say that. I think we need to execute on the projects that are in the pipeline now.  We have a full robust five-year capital plan. We’re at baby steps, right. We’ve gone from about $400 million to $800 million. We want to get to $1.6 billion. We still have a ways to go to build an organization that can execute on that.”

Jeffrey Gonneville, deputy general manager at the T, said officials at the agency have examined the subway system’s track network looking for possible defects and are trying to reconstruct what happened and why on Wednesday. “The ultimate cause of why this occurred is still under review,” he said.

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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.

Gonneville said T officials held a meeting last week to discuss communications breakdowns in the wake of the derailment. For example, he said, Keolis Commuter Services said its commuter rail trains could help pick up the slack, but the T failed to communicate that information to its customers. He also acknowledged that T staff sometimes gave out conflicting information on how passengers should reach their destinations.

Poftak said some amount of confusion is understandable when an incident occurs and facts are limited. But he also urged T officials to communicate their lack of information to customers.  “Saying we don’t know is sometimes more useful than not saying anything,” Poftak said.