MBTA Report Calls for New Leadership, Largely Chosen by Gov. Baker

Governor Charlie Baker discusses a report on the MBTA, released Wednesday.
Governor Charlie Baker discusses a report on the MBTA, released Wednesday. –The Boston Globe

The MBTA would fall under new leadership largely picked by Governor Charlie Baker, under recommendations made in a special report released Wednesday morning.

In a press conference timed with the release of the report, which was produced by a panel convened by Baker in February, Baker emphasized some of the report’s recommendations to improve the performance and financial standing of the transit system.

Among the recommendations is the creation of a five-person “Fiscal and Management Control Board’’ to oversee the MBTA for three to five years. The board would include three appointees of the governor, and an appointee from both the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

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The control board would “aggressively’’ oversee the MBTA’s costs and revenues, develop short- and long-term capital and operating plans, have the power to restructure the MBTA and “reinvent the labor-management and contract relationships’’ of the organization, “invest heavily in system and fleet modernization,’’ and more.

The report calls on Baker to request the resignation of all members of the MassDOT board, which currently oversees the T, by June 30, and on the legislature to establish the Fiscal and Management Control Board by the same date. The vacant MassDOT board spots would be filled, and the report suggests the board itself should be reformed by the legislature. But the Fiscal and Management Control Board would oversee the T for as long as it exists—which, the report suggests, would be three to five years.

A chief administrative officer for the MBTA—who would answer to the new fiscal and management board, and who would assume the role of the MBTA general manager—should be appointed by the governor by June 30, according to the report (though the report also says the new board would ultimately have hiring power for that position).

Baker said he has spoken with members of the legislature, and that they are “interested in the findings’’ of the report. He said MassDOT board members are currently focusing on delivering a budget for the next fiscal year, but that they are aware the report suggests they step down.

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Other recommendations include finding ways to maximize revenue—such as by cracking down on fare evasion, increased advertising and concessions in MBTA stations, and capitalizing on its real estate holdings—and clearer boundaries established between the T’s operating budget and capital improvement budgets. The report also suggests that the state should consider assuming responsibility for debt payments associated with the Big Dig, a factor that has often been cited as a cause for the MBTA’s poor financial state (but also one disputed by the new report, as it claims the debt “is declining, in both balance and importance’’). In exchange, the state would no longer guarantee covering shortfalls in the T’s operating budget.

The full report can be seen here.

Over the past several days, a few elements of the report that were critical of MBTA management and operational practices were leaked to The Boston Globe and other media outlets. Those included panel findings that the average MBTA worker is absent 57 days per year, and that the MBTA did not tap into $2.2 billion in grant money and bond issuances—nearly half of its available budget for system upgrades—between fiscal years 2010 and 2014. Baker highlighted these findings in opening remarks at his Wednesday press conference.

Baker formed the six-member panel (it was originally seven, before its chair stepped down) in February, after the T faced widespread struggles due to winter weather.

 

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