Former US Transportation Secretary Recommends MBTA Changes

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood, whose 2019 safety review panel report provided the basis for a federal investigation of the MBTA, will testify at an upcoming hearing for legislative oversight of the embattled agency.

During an Oct. 25 hearing, state lawmakers will ask LaHood to make recommendations on what the Legislature and the next gubernatorial administration can do to fix the T.

“I think the feeling of myself and my co-chair is the value that the former secretary brings is the future, given what’s in the report,” said William Straus, chairman of the House Joint Committee on Transportation.

“The importance of the Legislature and every governor is how to bring corrective action to the T, not just in terms of safety, but its overall governance structure.”

In addition to his work on the report, Straus said the committee is also interested in using LaHood’s extensive experience in transportation.

“We think it’s very important to have experts, especially those who have really taken a deep dive into the MBTA,” said Brendan Crighton, chairman of the Senate committee.

“A lot of what we’ve discussed so far in these oversight hearings is reflected in that 2019 report. You see a lot of the themes that are repeated in the FTA study.”

Both the 2019 Safety Review Panel and the Federal Transit Administration this summer reached the same conclusion in their reports: The MBTA’s focus on completing capital projects has come at the expense of safe day-to-day operations.

According to the FTA report, MBTA management said they did not take corrective action to address those concerns due to the challenges and uncertainties of the pandemic.

During that time, however, the MBTA largely supported its $2 billion-a-year capital program with overtime resources from its operations and maintenance departments, the report said.

Given the recurring themes, Strauss said discussions should center on whether the MBTA should be tasked with managing capital construction projects. Whatever happens, he said the MBTA should be freed up to focus on providing transit service.

In July, Straus proposed that the T be absorbed as MassDOT’s public transportation division, similar to the highway and aeronautics divisions.

Next week will be the commission’s third hearing. The goal is to have the report completed by the end of the legislative session in December, Straus said.

“Typically, when we do that kind of report, it would include legislative recommendations for the next session and recommendations for regulatory changes that could be implemented by the governor based on existing statutes,” he said.

The report will also cover safety oversight, which is currently the responsibility of the Department of Public Utilities, and what that should look like.

“That’s one of the bigger questions: Is the DPU the right entity for that safety oversight role?” Crighton said. “The way it works now, I don’t think so.”

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