Jun 22, 2022 - News

What to know about the MBTA oversight hearing and fixing the T

A Red Line train stops at the Braintree station, and the platform is empty.

A Red Line MBTA train at the Braintree station on June 21. Photo: Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Massachusetts lawmakers will hold an oversight hearing on the MBTA following the Federal Transit Administration's orders to fix safety hazards on the T.

Why it matters: The hearing is the latest fallout from the FTA's findings, released last week, which highlight safety hazards that the MBTA has ignored because of the agency's focus on capital projects.

Driving the news: House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka announced Tuesday the Transportation Committee will hold a hearing "in the coming weeks."

What they're saying: "We need to learn more so that the legislature can help ensure that the T returns to safe and reliable service," Spilka told business leaders at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event.

Meanwhile, transit advocates have their own ideas about next steps to fix the T.

  • Former transportation secretary Jim Aloisi told Axios the legislature should set aside $600 million to replenish the fiscal management control board's borrowing account, in order to fund the immediate fixes the MBTA is tackling to comply with the FTA directives.
  • Context: Earlier this year, the board reallocated $500 million in operating funds for capital projects at the Baker administration's request.
  • Rick Dimino, president and CEO of the nonprofit A Better City, told Axios the MBTA should call on peer agencies like the commuter rail to temporarily fill vacancies while it recruits dispatchers and supervisors.
  • Chris Dempsey, a former MassDot official who is running for state auditor, said in an interview the state could take over some of the MBTA's debt so it can focus on funding the most pressing fixes.

Between the lines: Democrats Spilka and Mariano laid blame on Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who's overseen the MBTA since 2015.

  • Spilka told reporters Tuesday morning, "He asked to be in charge of it in 2015. We gave it to him. He has all the tools there, hopefully, to know what is being funded and what's not being funded."

The other side: Anisha Chakrabarti, Baker's spokesperson, responded in a statement to Axios by noting the Baker administration has invested nearly $8 billion since 2015 to upgrade tracks, cars and signals.

Catch up fast: The MBTA has been underfunded for years, with one 2019 estimate putting the cost of equipment and infrastructure upgrades at $10 billion.

  • The MBTA typically gets money from part of the state's sales tax revenue and a $187 million subsidy in the state budget, but lawmakers have failed to pass funding increases.

What's next: Legislative leaders did not elaborate on when the hearing would take place or who would be called on to testify.

  • Senate transportation committee co-chairman Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) told reporters Tuesday he could see "the full slate of MBTA officials" and safety officials being asked to join.
  • As legislators prepare for the hearing, the House will take up a transportation bond bill that includes $400 million for the MBTA.

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