BOSTON — Atlanta area transit chief Beverly Scott has been chosen as the new general manager of the MBTA.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board voted unanimously to hire Scott after holding a public interview with her Monday afternoon. Dwight Ferrell, the other finalist for the post who, like Scott, works for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, was interviewed Monday morning.
Scott will start at the MBTA on Dec. 15 and earn $220,000 a year under a three-year contract. She’ll take the helm of an agency teetering from fiscal problems rooted in heavy debt and coping with expansion demands as well as a backlog of maintenance needs that have gone unaddressed due to insufficient funds.
After the board voted to hire her, Scott was asked about her vision for the T. She said stabilizing the agency was her first goal. After that, she’d like to position the agency for “tremendous growth.” Scott said, “I’ve always said I’m basically pretty much of a startup, fix-up, turnaround, transition person.”
Scott said she planned to bring her 30 years of experience to the post and suggested it would be the last stop on her career in transportation. “This is the one where I’m going to end up,” Scott said.
“This is really a tremendous opportunity,” she said. “The T is absolutely just an unbelievable regional asset, one for the state as well as one for this nation.”
Scott will also arrive a month before Gov. Deval Patrick, who oversees the MBTA, is scheduled to present a long-awaited long-term transportation financing plan to the Legislature.
“I think Dr. Scott is one of the preeminent transportation leaders in this country,” said MassDOT board member Ferdinand Alvaro.
Expounding on public transit and sometimes sending bouts of laughter through the boardroom audience, Scott during her interview shared with MBTA officials her history helping struggling transit systems from New York City to Atlanta.
“I have stayed in it because of the absolutely transformational impact we have on communities and we have on people,” said Scott. She said she gets “an adrenaline high” when she sees a new bus shelter.
Scott started as an academic who merely wanted to experience government work when she began her career in public transit in Houston, Texas, in 1977.
After the interview, Alvaro said he thought Ferrell was a “hands-on” manager, while Scott seemed like a “visionary leader.” Ferrell did not stay for Scott’s interview, telling the News Service that he was headed to catch a plane.
After two years heading up the Association of Minority Contractors following her time in Houston, Scott went to work for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York, in 1985, the beginning of a five-year window when she said powers were “aligned” to fix up the city’s subway system.
Taking opportunity of political situations was a theme of Scott’s testimony in front of the board, and during an answer about what would be her first few steps, she said, “I feel the strategic alignment, but those kinds of windows are only open for a short time.”
The new GM will be part of “robust” conversations over transportation financing, as Transportation Secretary Richard Davey described it. Davey also asked how she would handle the public scrutiny.
“Let me just put it this way, I love public service, and I have been privileged to be able to serve. I love people, I love communities. I do my best and I feel comfortable in my skin. I’m not a person of artifice. I don’t have different scripts,” Scott said.
In Atlanta, Scott said, she arrived during a budget crisis in 2007, as sales tax revenues were unable to provide enough support MARTA. Three hundred layoffs ensued as well as legislative deliberations over how the system could be funded, she said. Eventually, MARTA was able to get around a constitutional mandate that limited its funding sources, though transit activists failed in a bid to secure more MARTA funding this summer, Scott said. She did not say why she was not staying on at the Atlanta authority.
While Scott talked about the potential politics of buying new train equipment – naming the senators who live in Alabama and California who might be willing to talk about the trains manufactured in their states – she balked at a question on concrete railroad ties.
“I can’t tell you. I can’t,” said Scott, laughing. “I don’t really have an opinion.”
“You think it’s funny,” responded board member Janice Loux who had asked the question and said the concrete ties had been an issue.
At other times, it was the crowd laughing at Scott’s quips.
“I’m learning all the time. I say anybody who ever thinks that they know it all, that’s when you’re really stupid,” said Scott, continuing on to describe the difference between ignorance and stupidity: “Stupid you just can’t help.”
Scott was general manager of public transit systems in Rhode Island from 1996 to 2002, and headed up the Sacramento system for the next five years before taking the job in Atlanta.
Davey said Scott’s salary is the 19th highest among transit system CEOs and said the MBTA is the fifth biggest transit system in the country. After the vote, board members said they were impressed by Scott’s experience with different transit systems around the country.