Members of the media and dignitaries examine the first of 152 Orange Line cars to arrive at the MBTA's Wellington yard at a public ceremony in mid-2019. State House News Service File Photo.

State House News Service Photo

Transit advocates are giving Gov. Charlie Baker’s belated picks for the MBTA’s new board generally positive marks while sounding a note of caution about the tasks ahead.

Baker announced yesterday that the panel, which replaces the Fiscal and Management Control Board that expired June 30, will be chaired by Betsy Taylor, a six-year veteran of the state Department of Transportation Board of Directors. Baker also selected Robert Butler, vice president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO; Thomas “Scott” Darling, a safety consultant; Travis McCready, executive director of the U.S. Life Sciences Market for JLL; and Mary Beth Mello, the principal at Mello Transportation Consulting.

Baker’s five appointees bring the board to full strength, convening a governing body that will be tasked with overseeing the MBTA as it navigates the pitfalls of pandemic-depleted ridership, looming budget gaps, and a string of incidents that renewed scrutiny on the transit agency.

Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance, said she is “cautiously optimistic” the new board will be up to the task despite carrying over no members from the Fiscal and Management Control Board and a months-long gap between that predecessor panel’s final meeting and the new board’s yet-to-be-scheduled first meeting.

“Given that there are no board members who served on the previous board and the reasonably long gap, that means that this board has a lot of catch-up to do and a lot of work to do and basically no time to do it,” Thompson said in an interview. “It’s not that it’s an impossible feat, but it’s going to be tough and it’s going to take a lot of time.”

Members Bring Transit Experience

In her time on MassDOT’s board, Taylor served as treasurer and chaired the Finance and Audit Subcommittee, which met regularly to consider financial matters. Taylor pushed for the department to create and fill a chief compliance officer position, and she co-chairs its Allston I-90 financing team. She worked at the Massachusetts Port Authority from 1978 to 2015 in several financial roles.

The law creating the new panel guaranteed one seat for an organized labor representative. Butler, who also serves as Northeast Regional Council President for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, had been one of three people on a shortlist the Massachusetts AFL-CIO delivered to Baker.

Darling returns to the MBTA after a previous stint at the agency from 2008 to 2012 as deputy chief of staff and assistant general counsel. He also worked as chief of safety, security and control center operations for the Chicago Transit Authority.

Before McCready joined JLL, he served as president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and as vice president of programs for The Boston Foundation. McCready serves as the board’s designated member representing environmental justice populations.

Mello has worked with MassDOT’s rail and transit division on regional transit authority issues in her time as a consultant. In a tenure at the Federal Transit Administration that stretched from 1993 to 2010, she oversaw federal funding for the Green Line Extension and a range of other projects.

“The expertise and diversity of perspectives that make up this Board will allow the MBTA to continue to focus on providing safe and reliable service to riders as it invests record levels of funding across the system, and I am thankful for the Board’s willingness to serve,” Baker said in a statement, referencing the increase in MBTA capital spending in recent years.

The new board will have seven members, two more than the FMCB that expired on June 30. Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler will serve on the panel, as will Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, a Baker ally who was previously appointed by the independent MBTA Advisory Board that represents municipalities who help fund the T.

Former Transportation Secretary Jim Aloisi, a prominent transit advocate, a board member at advocacy group Transit Matters and a sometimes critic of the Baker administration’s transit policies, tweeted out his support for the new board members.

“Glad to see new @MBTA board selected. I know many of the members – all are knowledgeable, qualified & experienced. Looking forward to seeing how it all goes as #mapoli transit governance is critical to achieving forward looking outcomes,” he said.

‘Work Cut Out for Them’

A string of safety incidents and a report outlining a pending “fiscal calamity” in the agency’s capital budget had prompted many calls for the governor to name his contributions to the MBTA’s new board. The MassDOT board took over as the T’s governing body over the summer, though MBTA topics rarely came up in the handful of meetings during that span.

“They have their work cut out for them,” said Transportation for Massachusetts Interim Director Josh Ostroff. “Our statewide coalition looks forward to working with the MBTA Board and staff to address critical issues around safety, equity, affordability, climate resilience and modernization. We also expect the Legislature to support the resources necessary to ensure that the MBTA fulfills its essential mission.”

MBTA Advisory Board Executive Director Brian Kane, whose group represents 176 cities and towns that contribute operating dollars to the T, called the new panel’s appointment “a necessary first step” toward addressing “numerous” problems.

“The new board is a critical step in building on the strong foundation laid by the FMCB,” Kane said. “It will have many challenges and will need to go well beyond the reforms put in place in recent years to ensure that the MBTA is safe and solvent.”

“We appreciate the Governor finally appointing board members to the MBTA and look forward to working with them to push forward on Bus Electrification, RegionalRail, Bus Network Redesign, Red-Blue Connector, and other key, important MBTA initiatives,” Jarred Johnson, executive director of Transit Matters, said in a statement. “It’s critical that equity and safety be the watch words for this board. They must also continue to make the case for more investment in the T and work with the Administration and Governor to find a long term solution to the T’s impending operating and capital funding shortage.”

Advocates Express ‘Cautious’ Optimism for Baker’s T Board Picks

by State House News Service time to read: 4 min