Scott announced last winter that she would step down in Atlanta when her contract expires in December. Widowed when her second husband died in 2010, she planned to semiretire, moving closer to her son, granddaughter, and 82-year-old mother in Colorado.
But the MBTA, the nation’s fifth-largest system and steward of America’s oldest subway, was too good to pass up.
“Honey, the T is transit royalty,” she said. “It is old, fine wine.”
But Scott is clear-eyed about the T’s backlog of maintenance needs, its billions in debt, and the annual deficit forced by those crushing debt bills and a heavy reliance on one income source — a state sales tax that has lagged projections through recessions and consumer shifts to online shopping, joking that one mentor asked if she had “suicidal tendencies” when she said she was considering the job.
Despite the pitfalls, Scott called the Bay State vastly more transit-friendly than car-centric Georgia.
Though she believes transit leaders here and everywhere need to do a better job telling their story — that transit can be run more like a business but never make a profit; it requires subsidies globally as a public good, benefiting the economy, environment, and quality of life — she said this region gets it, illustrated by the thousands who attended the T’s fare-increase hearings.
And the Patrick administration is serious about working with the Legislature to address the state’s enormous transportation deficits.
“I would not have done this if I did not absolutely see real strategic alignment from the standpoint of the leadership,” she said.
Planning to meet with senior staff and tour the system this visit, Scott said she will immerse herself in the T’s inner workings but believes, as many academics and analysts do, that its problems are not waste but inadequate funding. She will scour for efficiencies but champion the call for more resources for the T and the state’s often-forgotten regional bus agencies.
“What they really need is they need me to help try to do the other part of this job, which is, ‘Let’s go get this money,’ ” she said. “We need money for [infrastructure] repair, we need money for operations and maintenance, we need money for expansion, and we need money for core capacity.”
At Arlington Station, Scott studied the T map, introducing herself to a woman nearby. The woman professed to being a newcomer, too, having just moved to Boston from Switzerland.
“Oh my god, that is so fabulous!” Scott said, greeting her first with a handshake and then a hug. “Gosh, well, I’m Beverly. What’s your name . . . Toyoko? OK, well, Toyoko, I will be moving here soon, so we’ll both discover it together.”
“Wish me luck,” said the woman, Toyoko Orimoto, a Northeastern physics professor.
“Wish me luck, too!” Scott said.