Oct 26, 2022 - News

Ex-transportation secretary calls for MBTA reset

Illustration of an MBTA sign changing into an emergency symbol.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Massachusetts legislators Tuesday that now is the time to hit the reset button on the MBTA as a new governor prepares to take office in 2023.

Driving the news: LaHood, who served on an MBTA safety review panel in 2019, testified before the state’s transportation committee.

  • He said the change of administration offers a chance for leaders to consider restructuring the MBTA, creating a safety-first culture that rewards — not penalizes — workers for reporting problems, and implementing a zero-tolerance policy for derailments.

Why it matters: Boston-area riders have endured derailments, fires and a 30-day Orange Line shutdown, but trains are as slow as ever and delays persist.

  • The MBTA still has a series of directives to address resulting from a Federal Transit Administration inspection in August.

What they’re saying: “The current system is not working,” said Lahood, who served as transportation secretary under former President Obama. “It simply is not. The FTA said that, we said it and the people that are riding the trains have said it over and over again.”

Context: LaHood believes MBTA officials were making progress on addressing the concerns his panel raised in a 2019 report, but the pandemic derailed their efforts.

  • Many of the problems flagged in the 2019 safety review panel report also appeared in an FTA inspection three years later.
  • Now, former state Rep. Geoff Diehl and Attorney General Maura Healey are vying to succeed Gov. Charlie Baker, and a new governor usually means new Cabinet leaders.

Details: LaHood suggested that if state officials do nothing else, they should remove the Department of Public Utilities' oversight authority over the MBTA, since multiple reports have shown the DPU hasn’t exercised it.

  • He also recommended creating a management organization to execute a safety plan.

What’s next: State Sen. Brendan Crighton, who co-chairs the transportation committee, agreed it’s time to focus on solutions ahead of the new administration and new legislative session. But it remains to be seen whether that involves removing the DPU’s oversight authority.

  • “I’m hesitant to fully commit to that until we know where the best landing spot is,” Crighton told Axios. “I’m going to continue to have conversations; we’re going to, as a committee, but it’s something we need to dive into more.”

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Boston stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Boston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more