It’s time to thank the MBTA’s current board of directors for their service, and ask them to go. 

We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we are well aware that without also providing more resources to address a huge maintenance backlog, or without a new collective bargaining agreement, replacing members of the T’s board will amount to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. 

But it’s clear that this board and its hands-off approach has failed the millions of Bay Staters and businesses that rely on a functioning T. 

Last week’s board meeting was a classic case in point. Presented with frightening ridership projections as part of a discussion of next year’s budget, no board member stopped to question – or even recap, for the public’s benefit – what the T’s strategy is to bring riders back.  

Not only are riders, in the form of the transit fares they pay, a vital part of the agency’s finances, patronage is arguably the T’s only true performance metric. It is the acid test, the reflection of whether all the agency’s safety, reliability, service design and service delivery efforts actually meet the public’s needs.  

But instead, in the same month the New York City subway system announced it had surpassed pre-pandemic ridership levels despite the lingering slump in office-worker commutes, Board Chair Betsy Taylor declared at a March 9 subcommittee meeting that she believes that ridership around half of what it was pre-COVID is simply a “new normal” to be accepted, not a challenge to be overcome.  

Translate that into budgets and service levels and even a casual T rider will tell you that’s a recipe for a death spiral for the agency.  

To her credit, Taylor appeared to reverse herself at Thursday’s full board meeting, endorsing a budget for the next fiscal year that provides for significant hiring to fix service issues at the heart of many reliability problems. 

But in that same moment, the public was treated to another example of the board’s frankly sleepy behavior. The problems with the T’s bus driver contract are well known – in a nutshell, new hires must work shifts split between late nights and very early mornings, on a part-time basis and for far less than the private sector will pay for similar qualifications. No board member acknowledged this obstacle, much less pressed T leaders on whether they are trying to address it in negotiations with union leaders.  

Fortunately, Gov. Maura Healey has the ability to shape this board right away. She has the power to replace up to three board members by fiat, and should Taylor be pressured to step aside before her term ends in 2024, Healey also can name her replacement. 

The T is in crisis, and if the current board isn’t going to cooperatively push T leadership and serve as one of the public’s primary windows into the agency, new members must be found who will. 

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Leadership Lacking from T Board

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min