MBTA Improvements Will Come Incrementally, Board Chairman Says

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2023/06/05/mbta-improvements-will-come-incrementally-board-chairman-says/

By Alison Kuznitz
State House News Service

Frustrated MBTA riders can expect an “incremental series of improvements” to the transit system, the agency’s new board chairman said.

Lifting slow zones, among other fixes, need to be integrated into bigger changes — like overhauling the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s organizational culture and decision-making processes — in order to make a “significant impact” on daily operations, Thomas Glynn said when pressed to predict the T’s performance within six months to a year.

“Those things take some time,” Glynn, former MBTA general manager and Massport chief executive officer, said during a virtual MBTA Advisory Board forum.

People will see a “different T one year from now,” but Glynn indicated the public won’t see a difference in just two months’ time.

“It’s an incremental series of improvements,” Glynn said. “We have a meeting or talk to people in the stakeholder community and we can say the time between trips is eight minutes, we want to get it to six minutes, but I don’t know how meaningful that is to the passengers who are standing on the platform kind of waiting. So some of these things will take longer even as we lift the speed restrictions, which be an important thing that will happen over time.”

Glynn mentioned that he met last week with MBTA general manager Phillip Eng and Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce president Jim Rooney, a former deputy general manager at the MBTA.

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, the advisory board chairman and a T board member, offered a potentially longer timeframe.

“We might be a year, a year and half, I think, from really turning the corner because we all know there’s some huge structural issues at that agency that’s been unattended to for a long time. That’s not a shot at anybody,” said Koch, who has served on the T board since 2021. “I think Charlie Baker was probably the first governor since Mike Dukakis to pay any attention in any real way to the T, and all the challenges and needs.”

Federal Transit Administration chief safety officer Joe DeLorenzo on May 19 rejected the MBTA’s work plan for rail right-of-way protections — meant to bolster employee safety and prevent trains from hitting them — because the plan’s protections would not be fully implemented until late 2023 or 2024. The Federal Transit Administration ordered the plan in April after five “near misses” between trains and T workers.

Safety improvements in the new work plan must take effect within 60 days, DeLorenzo instructed. The T could be barred from right-of-way access should officials fail to “appropriately revise” their plan, DeLorenzo said.

During the forum, MBTA leaders broadly addressed those safety woes while sketching new strategies to internally revamp the agency — like boosting employee morale and overcoming budget deficits — and to collaborate with stakeholders.

Eng, the former president of the Long Island Rail Road who took the helm of the MBTA in April, said “everything is a priority” as he mentioned safety and customer service. But Eng expressed a tension concerning the MBTA completing its work quickly while also ensuring safety, as well as “accomplishing a state of good repair and at the same time support expansion, operational improvements and build for the future.”

Eng said he intends to “get out as much” as he can to talk to all communities served by the MBTA. That extends beyond the subway to commuter rail, bus, paratransit, and water transportation, he said.

“Every area has a unique need, and sometimes they may not seem to fit into the picture,” Eng said. “But it’s important for me to know those needs so as we make decisions, we are moving in the right direction for everybody.”

Eng also advocated for outreach with developers and the private sector as municipalities aim to reinvent themselves through transit-oriented development. Early planning discussions should reflect what MBTA service level is needed to support new apartments and venues, Eng said, as he reflected on “playing catch-up” in Long Island when existing transit wasn’t sufficient to meet growing demand among residents.

Eng said he wants to challenge engineering firms and contractors to help the MBTA to “be better.”

“If you know a better way, a more innovative way, we’re going to be open-minded to it, because moving forward, being on time, being on budget is going to be important to me, particularly as I continue to ask for more dollars,” Eng said. “If I’m spending the money in the most efficient, cost-effective manner that’s giving meaningful, measurable projects, I think that’s one of the best ways to say the T is a good investment.”

He also wants the MBTA to hold itself accountable for completing projects on time or ahead of schedule.

“I think in the near-term, you’ll start to see not only some of the bigger projects where we can report back on as I have a chance to dive into them and actually change the narrative, I think, in terms of why they were late but how do I bring them back. There’s other things that are ongoing that are not in the limelight that I think will start to show that this agency can deliver and can deliver sooner than we had promised,” Eng said.

The new general manager didn’t offer examples and T communications staff didn’t either.

MBTA leaders can also anticipate more participation at board meetings, following Governor Maura Healey’s appointment of Glynn in April, alongside Thomas McGee, a former state senator and Lynn mayor, and Eric Goodwine, vice president of Rockland Trust. Meeting agendas, which in the past have focused on items that require votes, will incorporate a more managerial perspective as directors are briefed on major projects, such as fare transformation and new subway cars, Glynn said as he cited Eng’s preference for the shift.

Healey wants an “activist board” that shows “deference” to Eng and allows him to “really do his job,” Glynn said.

“At the end of the day, that’s going to make the biggest single difference — he’ll be able to call the shots working with the secretary or the governor’s office,” Glynn said.


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