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Boston Chamber of Commerce head calls for federal oversight of MBTA

"Commuters are angry."

James Rooney, President and CEO of The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, sounded off on the various issues plaguing the MBTA. Jessica Rinaldi/Boston Globe Staff

As the MBTA awaits the findings of a wide-ranging safety inspection conducted by federal officials, the head of the The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce has weighed in on the problems surrounding the T. 

In a series of posts on Twitter Chamber President and CEO James E. Rooney expressed his support for the inspection, which was announced by Federal Transit Administration officials in April. 

“Commuters are angry. Last week’s Green Line collision is the latest in a long-running series of serious problems that plague greater Boston’s MBTA every day,” Rooney wrote. 

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He continued, citing a WBUR report that revealed Massachusetts traffic has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, but T ridership is still not nearly where it was before COVID struck. Of course, the additional health risks associated with public transit compared to riding in cars is a factor, but Rooney also pegged this discrepancy on riders’ lack of trust that the T will provide safe, reliable transportation. 

He’s not alone. When the FTA announced its inspection, officials said they were “extremely concerned with the ongoing safety issues,” surrounding the T. Since the FTA’s power to oversee transit safety was expanded by Congress in 2012, the organization has only once conducted an inspection similar to the one happening now in Boston. 

In 2015, the FTA completed a safety inspection of D.C.’s Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, The Boston Globe reported. That inspection found multiple safety issues and prompted the FTA to take over direct oversight of WMATA for more than three years. A similar fate could be in store for the MBTA. 

The inspection was prompted by numerous, and occasionally deadly, recent accidents and derailments involving MBTA trains. Perhaps the most notable was the April incident where 39-year-old Robinson Lalin was dragged to his death after his arm got stuck in a Red Line door at Broadway Station. 

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More recently, two Green Line trains collided near Government Center, injuring four train operators. One of those trains was traveling at least twice the posted speed limit, NBC 10 Boston reported. The train also sped through a red light before the crash, WCVB reported

This was the second time in a year that two Green Line trains collided. These accidents could have been prevented by technology first recommended to the MBTA by the federal government in 2009, the Globe reported

Last month, a new Orange Line train derailed due to the improper installation of brake bolts. The entire new fleet was pulled for inspection, and a similar problem was found on seven other trains. 

On Wednesday, a Commuter Rail train on the Newburyport/Rockport Line derailed, causing delays. 

On Twitter, Rooney cited federal data, writing that more than 1,300 T riders were injured riding, waiting, or leaving a station since 2010. 

“The FTA’s oversight role of the MBTA is necessary. The FTA’s emphasis on action that leads to improvement should extend across all aspects of the T,” Rooney wrote. 

Aside from safety concerns, the MBTA could also be facing serious financial problems. On Thursday the T’s oversight board unanimously approved a $2.55 billion budget for the next fiscal year, according to the Globe. This was made possible by pandemic-related relief money and rainy day funds, but a long term problem remains: the T’s expenses are dramatically outpacing the amount of revenue coming in, the Globe reported. Next summer, T officials estimate that the organization will face a $236 million gap in its operating budget. 

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Pre-pandemic, about 33 percent of the T’s operating revenue came from fares. Next fiscal year, officials estimate that only 19 percent of revenue will come from fares, the Globe reported. 

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