MBTA Chief’s Departure Ends Months Of Escalating Tension

This May 2005 file photograph shows MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas on the platform of the Chinatown subway station in Boston. (AP)

This May 2005 file photograph shows MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas on the platform of the Chinatown subway station in Boston. (AP)

The general manager of the MBTA has been forced to resign. Daniel Grabauskas, who ran the agency for more than four years, agreed to step down Thursday night after the board voted to pay out the rest of his contract.

The move caps months of tensions that have escalated over the past month.

The board met behind closed doors for more than four hours to work out the separation agreement that pays Grabauskas $327,000 for the remaining nine months of his contract. Three board members, including Transportation Secretary James Aloisi, voted against paying the compensation deal, but Aloisi said he did want Grabauskas to step down.

“There are a lot of issues that people have been unhappy about,” Aloisi told reporters Thursday night. “They have been unhappy about levels of customer service, focus and clearly, as you know, some board members’ particular concern about the NTSB report.”

The National Transportation Safety Board report on the 2008 Green Line trolley crash in Newton blamed a lack of safety systems and operator error. The report also raised the possibility the trolley driver may have suffered from an episode of “micro sleep” caused by a sleeping disorder.

When the NTSB released its findings last month, Grabauskas was on furlough. Aloisi accused Grabauskas of being unavailable at a critical time, and Grabauskas countered that Aloisi was lying when he said he was unable to contact him. This public exchange intensified a political brawl that ended Thursday with Grabauskas’s resignation. But Aloisi says it’s not about politics.

“It’s in the public’s interest to have a fresh perspective on the MBTA,” Aloisi said. “It’s in the public’s interest to move away from the status quo. It’s in the public’s interest to move away from the kind of customer service people haven’t been satisfied with.”

Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement he understands the board’s desire to seek new leadership, but he strongly disagrees with the compensation agreement. It’s out of line, he says, with the fiscal condition of the MBTA and the general manager’s job performance.

Grabauskas did not speak to reporters after the meeting and did not return calls seeking comment. Under his contract, negotiated when he was hired by Gov. Mitt Romney in 2005, Grabauskas could only be fired for gross negligence. During his tenure, Grabauskas oversaw many changes to customer service, including new trains, audio speakers at the stations and the Charlie Card.

But the pressure had been building on Grabauskas for the past few weeks when three of eight MBTA board members wrote a letter accusing him of losing focus and a commitment to safety. Four other members wrote in support.

In addition to Aloisi, board member Darnell Williams voted against Grabauskas’s separation agreement, but was happy to see him resign.

“I think the key was on the performance –- the management transparency, the diversity issues as well as the safety issues and concerns around the management of the T,” Williams said.

The board’s lawyer will serve as interim general manager. Aloisi said he is looking forward to hiring someone who will fit better into the new consolidated Department of Transportation, which launches in November.

The MBTA board that approved Grabauskas’s separation agreement will be dissolved in less than three months as part of the governor’s transportation overhaul. He will appoint a new panel to oversee all transit agencies.

During the public comments period of the board meeting, several people questioned the focus on Grabauskas.

“We need to stop allowing these things to distract us from the issues that really are more of concern to the ridership of the MBTA,” said Pamela Bush.

Of most concern to riders at the meeting was a proposed fare increase, which the board is expected to vote on at its next meeting in October. But Aloisi said he will review the decision to implement a fare increase.

“I’m not bringing it to the board until I get a report from the group of folks that are coming in to give a top-to-bottom review and until I’m able to kick the tires on this thing in a way that I’m satisfied makes sense,” he said.

The outside review, which will be conducted by the former head of the John Hancock financial services company, will be conducted pro bono so the MBTA won’t have to pile on to its $8 billion debt.

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  • Leslie Miller

    That’s an outrageous package in this time of short money! For what? A person who ran a system that couldn’t even get me pplaces on time, and kept breaking down.

    As a retgired teacher, I cannot get a raise on my pension except for 3 1/2 percent on the first $12,000 each year, that’s not a cost of living! Actually all my years teaching never got a raise that matched the raises on cost of my living . I worked a second job all my teaching life and all summers and since I was 14yo. I can’t even collect most of my Social security in this state, though friends is most other states are. And Grabuskas gets this large package? I couldn’t even colect for most of the almost 300 sick days I had never used.

    This is just like the big money executives getting giant packages to do a bad job in the big corporations. A Thank you for failing!

  • Rudolf

    Gee, I wish I could resign and get paid for the rest of my contract plus added payments for unused (unaccured) vacation and sick time. Sick time is available for being sick, not a paid vacation. Especially in these tough times, this is the golden parachute for non-performance.

  • Jemimah

    I’m not even sure there are words to sufficiently express my outrage and bewilderment. My expresssion, however, looks something like this { : O
    In our present economy, with the current deficit that the T is running, at Dan G’s age, he should be ASHAMED to accept that huge chunk o’ “compensation.” If there was really compensation happening, HE would be paying the T to make up for his bad management. Oy.

  • scrambled-eggs

    If my employer offered me a year’s salary plus benefits to go away, I would be crazy not to take it. The fools here are Mr. Aloisi and Gov. One-Term for pushing him out. The job is impossible to do well, sandwiched between union contracts on one side and political interference on the other. Example, we heard one board member complaining about a “lack of commitment to diversity” on BUR this morning – which T is he riding on?

    Remember the T is scheduled to fold into the new “Dept. of Transportation” at the end of the year, and leaving the T leaderless makes sense from a political viewpoint, because the opportunities to integrate patronage (Mr. Aloisi’s sister needs a new job ?) into the new system are now manifold. This is likely why the pols were so keen to get rid of the GM now. Keep an eye fixed on what happens in T management come November.
    This expensive foolishness at the behest of the Gov. should be remembered as the pols gear up for election season next year. As the President might say, “The Governor has behaved stupidly”.

  • Doug Carver

    Too bad we all can’t take advantage of ridiculous “severance” packages in spite of poor result from our work domain. Of couse, if we did, the nation, states, towns, and economy would be broke… hmm. well more so than the current situation. A possible contributing factor? And I am sure much of that money went, or will, go into healthier investments. A virtual money tree. And I thought they didn’t exist. Wait until I tell my kids they might be able to find one after all.

  • Ben Gustafson

    “The board met behind closed doors for more than four hours to work out the separation agreement that pays Grabauskas $327,000 for the remaining nine months of his contract.” Where does the $327,000 figure come from? Was Grabauskas making $408,000 a year in salary and benefits? Or did the T board just want to get him out the door, and was willing to make the MA taxpayer foot the bill?

  • M E Sinkiewicz

    Have the posters here even read the article? Grabauskas’s five-year contract where he could be fired only for gross negligence. “During his tenure, Grabauskas oversaw many changes to customer service, including new trains, audio speakers at the stations and the Charlie Card.” Grabauskas more than fulfilled his obligations to the Commonwealth (anyone remember the pre-Grabuskas Registry?). Chalk this up to the dopes in the Patrick administration who wanted him out. If I had to guess, Grabauskas didn’t play ball the way they wanted him to.

  • John

    Good now that Danny is done with the MBTA maybe the new General manager will take the T unlike danny.

  • http://N/A Larry Bloch

    I’ve been looking for this malacha’s ouster for over a year now. Every time I walk into Harvard Station I broadcast how I feel about Dannyboy. He should take a very slow boat back to Athens and see if he can straighten out their mess!!!!!

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