A sobering report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation shows the T won’t be fixed, much less back to normal, any time soon. But that’s no reason to give up on it.
The system, MTF found, needs nearly 50 percent more new hires in the next year than previously estimated – around 2,800, once expected retirements are also factored in – to return to normal service and to make progress on safety repairs and on planned service expansions like the vital redesign of the T’s bus network.
Federal safety investigators offered an estimate of 2,000 hires needed in their 2022 reports, and The T’s fiscal year 2023 budget provides for 1,759 new hires, and Gov. Maura Healey herself has pledged to hire at least 1,000 new transit workers by the end of this year. The legislature has given her $20 million to finance new hiring bonuses and other expenses associated with this.
With only 170 net new staff this fiscal year, per the MTF, and a major bus operator recruitment drive that ended in failure last year – thanks, in part, to a Baker-era operator contract that forces new workers into untenable part-time “split shift work” – it’s not an encouraging sign.
But, as with the deteriorated track conditions that interim General Manager Jeffrey Gonneville took the frankly heroic decision to expose and begin dealing with forthrightly, part of what the MTF has described is a symptom of an agency that was left to decay for decades.
For all his accomplishments trying to right the ship at the MTBA, Gov. Charlie Baker obviously had a blind spot when it came to the agency’s day-to-day operations. A rotating cast of executives following Baker’s unceremonious ousting of former General Manager Beverly Scott didn’t help matters, either, but why else did he throw his backing behind the current board’s lackadaisical, light-touch approach?
And it’s not as though state legislators get off scot-free, either. They clearly did not take their constitutional oversight role terribly seriously over decades, otherwise someone on Joint Committee on Transportation would have spotlighted these issues with a public hearing.
Yet again, we’re confronted with the frustrating reality that a generation’s worth of different types of decay can’t be fixed overnight. But with a new general manager in place, we hope the Healey administration will be able to turn its focus towards other pieces of the puzzle, like naming a new T board or working through her transportation transition team’s list of policy recommendations. With diligent work, there’s still plenty of time to make big progress in 2023 and start to reverse the T’s existential decline in ridership.
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