Nov 16, 2022 - News

Maura Healey looks at next steps to reshape MBTA

Illustration of an MBTA sign changing into an emergency symbol.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Gov.-elect Maura Healey has big decisions to make about who will run the MBTA once she is sworn in on Jan. 5.

What they're saying: "The focus is going to be on workforce, on leadership, on accountability and safety," Healey told Axios last week about her plans for the MBTA during the first days of her administration.

  • "My job will be to be sure we have a system, and specifically a T, that is doing everything that we need to see it doing so it is safe, reliable, affordable and it's going to be important to get the right leadership in place as well," Healey said.
  • Healey wouldn't say if she'd designate a new transportation secretary or MBTA general manager to start alongside her in January.

Why it matters: Healey is taking over an MBTA riddled with workforce problems, safety concerns and a ridership that's seen years of promises to improve service go nowhere.

Driving the news: Former Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Jim Aloisi told Axios the general manager position and his old job leading MassDOT aren't the only major roles Healey will have to fill.

  • Three of the seven MBTA board seats will also be hers to appoint. Add in the seat held by her hand-picked transportation secretary, and Healey will have control over a majority of the board appointments right out of the gate.
  • Aloisi suggested Healey demand the resignations of the remaining board members so she can appoint each seat herself instead of having to contend with holdovers from Gov. Charlie Baker's term.

Details: Transit advocates want Healey to enact her vision for the T through her general manager pick.

  • "Part of that focus about the GM is how you envision the system running going forward," Pete Wilson from Transportation for Massachusetts told Axios.
  • Wilson said the new governor could also begin her term with new MBTA programs Baker resisted, like discounted or free fares for low-income riders or benefits for dedicated riders who have suffered through the worst of the T's shutdowns and delays.

Zoom in: Healey would also be able to exert power over the MBTA and ramp up hiring by reopening collective bargaining agreements with the public sector labor unions whose members make the T run.

  • Agreements throughout the Baker era made it more difficult to hire qualified bus drivers and dispatchers. Healey could convince the unions to rewrite their contracts to be friendlier to faster hiring.

When it comes to safety, both Aloisi and Wilson say Healey should conduct direct talks with the Federal Transit Administration that has oversight over the MBTA while it struggles to fix crucial gaps in the system's safety.

  • Aloisi said Healey should travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and build a better working relationship with federal officials.

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