Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is right. 

It’s time for all of us who rely on and care about the MBTA to move past outrage and accept it’s time for another massive push to fix the transit system’s subways. 

But that doesn’t mean Gov. Charlie Baker and agency General Manager Steve Poftak are going about it the right way. 

The Baker administration and T leadership sprung the upcoming Orange Line shutdown on stakeholders in one of the worst ways possible: without warning or evidence of planning, at least as far as the person on the street would be able to intuit. Who would willingly keep a pillar of the transit system shuttered as Greater Boston’s 5 million residents come back from summer vacations? This signals that neither Baker nor top T leaders respect riders enough to understand the headspace they occupy – something conversations with riders this week reveal they’re keenly aware of.  

Years of disinvestment at the T, a lack of clear strategic communication from Baker about what parts of the T would be fixed on what timelines and epically tardy and self-serving outrage from state legislators this summer have delivered the impression neither Baker nor Beacon Hill cares enough to competently tackle the problems. And this will be true whether or not that’s really what’s going on in their respective heart of hearts.  

With no obvious emergency driving this decision, it seems like the Baker administration decided a dramatic, line-wide shutdown was the best route to restoring public confidence in the T. Which makes it ironic that even if the shutdown does what’s promised, and delivers an Orange Line that’s suddenly reliable, efficient and bug-free in one dramatic stroke, the way they’ve chosen to do this has created yet another, massive hit to the public’s trust in the system’s leaders.  

To rectify this, everyone should take a page from Wu’s playbook. Level with the public about the challenges instead of whining that you haven’t gotten enough credit for work already done when the system is still figuratively – and sometimes literally – on fire. Don’t gaslight riders by saying you’ve “taken the time to listen to riders and sympathize with their frustrations” before delivering a surprise slap in the face or hide behind flexible adjectives like “mostly.” Approach the challenge with transparency and humility, as Wu and Boston Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge have been doing on social media. And above all, communicate frequently and stick to deadlines. 

A game plan built on these principles, which leverage well-known best practices of crisis leadership, just might be able to build back public confidence in the T’s leadership and its future at a time when it’s needed most. 

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A Plea for Humility and Transparency

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min