The Oldest Subway System Gets Young Blood

BOSTON — Go to Boylston Station, on the Green Line, and you can feel the arthritis in the old bones of the MBTA. The rails and cars groan and squeal like stuck pigs as they bleed deficits. One hundred and sixty million last year. Raising the question: Who’d want to run it anyway?

Gov. Deval Patrick has appointed Richard Davey as MassDOT’s new Rail and Transit administrator. (Mass.gov)

“I think being the general manager of the MBTA is the toughest job in government,” said Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board.

“You got to move 1.2 million people a day on a system that large parts of it were built a hundred years ago,” he explained. “It’s just a tough, tough job in a tough, tough economic time.”

In contrast to the nation’s oldest subway system, the newly appointed motor man for the MBTA is an energetic and youthful 36-year-old.

Gov. Deval Patrick has tapped Richard Davey as the new Rail and Transit administrator, and he’s nominated Davey to be the new general manager of the MBTA. The MassDOT board votes on his nomination Thursday.

For the last two years, Davey has run Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, the private company that operates and maintains the commuter rail for the MBTA. He has earned the reputation as someone who makes the trains run on time from suburbia to Boston and back.

“He has a great reputation from the MBCR, where he first as an assistant then as general manager ran the system on a daily basis,” Regan said.

Regan said Davey improved service and performance on the commuter rail within months of taking charge — working with one of the toughest contracts in the country. It penalized his company for every late running train, broken air conditioner or dirty station.

“I think being the general manager of the MBTA is the toughest job in government.”

– Paul Regan, MBTA Advisory Board

Ninety percent of those commuter trains ran on time last year.

“You’re only as good as your last rush hour,” Davey said. No-nonsense, fast talking and white shirted, he speaks in crisp aphorisms.

“If you are the person on that one delayed train or bus, you don’t care if the other 99 are on time because you were on the one that was delayed,” he said. “So perfection is always what you’re shooting for — it is difficult to achieve but it’s always the prize that you’re seeking.”

Put Davey down as a committed T rider. He said he has a 13-year-old car with only 50,000 miles on it. He enters the state level after last year’s traffic jam of top transportation officials exiting or pushed out of their positions — four in all; three in four months. His bullet points are clear. His aim is steady.

“Safety is absolutely my No. 1 priority,” he said. “I’m passionate about safety and that’s going to be a key for us.”

He reiterates performance and reliability. And as for the notoriety of a cultural “old guard” at the MBTA, Davey is firm and diplomatic. “From time to time you hear: We do that because we’ve always done that,” he said. “It may be the right ultimate answer, but questioning the premise is important.”

And so the man who made the commuter trains run on time for 140,000 commuters now takes on the job of making buses, trains, subways and boats on time for more than a million people a day.

Regan, of the T’s advisory board, said he has to do all that while trying to get the creaks out of the system, as well. “And good luck to him,” Regan said. “He has a big challenge ahead of him.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • John

    Can he do something to reduce the number of annoying and overly long announcements? I am so sick hearing of Chief Paul McMillan explaining the see something say something program four times a day. Announcements should be brief and MBTA related. No more messages from the registrar, Charlie Card discounts, flu shots, etc.

  • Doug

    I’m a daily commuter on the red line. The T is slow, overcrowded, and frequently broken down. There are many days where I wish I’d just sat in traffic on the expressway. I don’t envy him having this job. He’s got an awful lot to fix.

  • mario burks

    Christmas comes early in June =). No more latino announcers on the orange line.

  • Leslie Miller

    PLEASE do something about the E- Heath Train! PLEASE!
    And the noise, we are all losing our hearing!

  • John

    Is ninety percent on-time considered good? That would mean that I would have one late trip every week either coming or going to work. I don’t consider that good at all. And aren’t major issues facing the MBTA primarily safety and cost control. The piece says nothing about his strengths, if any, in those areas.

  • Paul Turner

    Here’s some advice. Boston should float some bonds and build a state of the art system, one subway line at a time. There is nothing one can do to fix a 100+ y.o. system. Anything short of that is throwing good money after bad. Chicago and New York ought to do the same.

  • Vikram

    I take the B line everyday. Usually the train is so slow that you can beat it walking (at a leisurely pace) from BC to park street.
    If someone could innovate on the street level stops , this line would be a lot faster and take cars off the road. even doing something like a priority on the Stop lights at intersections for the trains should make these go faster.

  • Dan

    Oh, how I miss the T. Seriously: it’s one of my favorite light rail systems in the country (I like the Muni and BART in SF better, and depending on where I am and where I need to go, I like parts of the NYC MTA better, same for Portland’s Trimet.) But in the several times each year I come back to Boston, I generally ride every line, and always appreciate it. Honestly: I ride the Blue to and from the airport, the Red back and forth between Cambridge/Somerville and Boston, and the (admittedly crappy) E train, and the (nice) Orange to JP.

    Yes: the system is old and has serious issues, and I’m still pissed that the poor neighborhoods got screwed with the change from light rail to “rapid bus” on the Silver Line. But try coming down to Atlanta where we supposedly have great public transit, yet we’re constantly single tracking, the escalators at most station have been closed for months, and the disruptions are AT LEAST 1 in 10 trips. And I won’t even start on the buses.

    I’m not saying the MBTA is perfect: I hate many of the bus lines (mostly having ridden the 39 and 1) and they clearly need to work a bunch of stuff out. But it’s a shockingly functional system for being as old and under-resourced as it it.

    I do agree completely with Paul Turner: the T should be totally fixed, one line at a time, no matter the bond cost. I just fear that will be done in socioeconomic order: the (already best) Red line, then Orange, then Blue. Realistically, while the Green line serves some affluent neighborhoods, it’s such a decrepit old mess that it needs to be totally replaced from the bottom up.

  • John

    The trafic lights should sense when a green line train is coming so the train doesn’t have to wait for the light to change. Also all green lines have too many stops.

  • John

    Also enabling cell service in the tunnels is stupid. Cell phones are used to trigger bombs. NY doesn’t have signal access. It also would have also prevented the texting accident.

  • TMH

    Changing my commute from riding the T to biking two yeas ago was one of the best decisions I ever made. With spring in the air, I’m looking very forward to the T rides forced by Boston and Cambridge not clearing Ice from bike paths are over until next winter. Whenever I ride the T, it seems to get stuck, run late, break down. It once took me over two hours on the T from Downtown to Kendall Square. After spending a long, long time in a tunnel, having to listen to the most annoying speaker messages of “moving momentarily”, I had to change tracks to go over the bridge, then they made us change tracks again. Unfortuantely, they had closed the entrance to the other track. Frustrated, I took a cab home.

    Now that I ride my bike and my blood pressure is much better and I don’t catch every cold going around anymore…

    Rails to trails!

  • Hilary

    About buses: north of boston, you have several that run outbound only to 7pm at the latest [referring to rte. 451 specifically] – can you please extend the time? I hate having to use my charlie card on one bus [455/459 from salem state college] only to have to hop onto the outbound newburyport train which a)doesn’t accept bus the charlie card and b)costs much more!

  • http://www.ace-ej.org/tru Joby

    I wish Mr. Davey welcome and good luck, and one piece of advice: I hope he will make an effort to involve the T riding community in a more participatory decision-making process as he decides how and in which order to improve the system. He should start by reaching out to the T Riders’ Union at http://www.ace-ej.org/tru to ensure his decisions are informed by the communities who most need better service.

  • Rachelle Bernacki

    Fix the 47 BUS!!!!! It is so crowded, it passes me by at least once a week. I often have to wait for 3 buses or just give up and walk. You’ve got your work cut out for you….

  • dp

    Follow the London example: have a high congestion fee for cars entering Boston and put the money into the public transit.

  • Charlie

    Best of luck to the new GM. It’s indeed a tough job and a thankless one at that. Glad to hear he’s a regular T rider too. Innovation and small-scale improvements can go a long way to making the T better. As others have mentioned, signal priority on the street-level Green Line would be a HUGE benefit, as would some sort of prepayment system. A Green Line train with hundreds of people on it shouldn’t have to wait for 5 single occupant cars to turn left!

Most Popular