Jul 19, 2022 - News

MBTA officials grilled by at oversight hearing

The countdown sign for an MBTA train showing a delay of 24 minutes.
MBTA subway trains are severely delayed while the agency tries to improve dispatcher staffing. Photo: Mike Deehan/Axios

State lawmakers are trying to hold MBTA managers accountable for the series of safety violations, service slowdowns and staffing issues that have plagued the T.

  • They also want to know why the agency has been hiding information about possible derailment issues along the Blue Line.

Driving the news: At a legislative oversight hearing Monday, top Democrats demanded answers over a Boston Globe report that the MBTA drafted statements informing the public about three construction vehicle derailments in the Blue Line tunnel over three days in May, only to bury them after Gov. Charlie Baker's office got involved.

What they're saying: "Transparency is not their priority, press strategy is," Lynn Sen. Brendan Crighton said at the State House hearing. The draft statements were later uncovered by the Globe via a public records request.

The other side: MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said he didn't consider the governor's office's decision to stop the release of the statements to be political interference, adding that he was focused on moving the Blue Line repair project forward.

  • Baker's office told the Globe they were merely vetting the information before it went public.

Why it matters: The MBTA is spending billions of dollars to repair the transit system, and has recently been beset by safety violations, oversight investigations and considerable delays. Baker's office's decision to shield the T from even more bad news is making Democrats skeptical that the agency has riders' or taxpayers' best interests in mind.

Meanwhile: House transportation committee chairman Rep. William Straus pressed Poftak and Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler on whether those billions are being spent wisely.

  • Straus questioned whether the MBTA is able to operate a transit agency and plan and execute major projects at the same time.
  • He encouraged his colleagues to think about how the state's transportation system could be reshaped to better deliver repairs and extended service.

What we're watching: Once Baker is out of office next year, legislative Democrats could attempt to once again restructure how the T is managed, or even strip the agency of its direct authority over major capital repair projects.

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