BOSTON — The incoming head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority took a ride on the nation’s oldest – and most indebted – subway system Monday, greeting riders and calling for a major investment in public transit while acknowledging she couldn’t rule out future fare increases.
Beverly Scott, who will officially assume the post of MBTA general manager on Dec. 17, was given a three-year contract by the T’s board of directors in September after leading Atlanta’s mass transit system for five years.
Scott rode an Orange Line train from North Station to Back Bay before boarding a commuter train to South Station. Along the way, she said, she spoke to commuters who in July absorbed an average 23 percent fare increase to help close a nearly $160 million deficit that had been facing the MBTA in the current fiscal year.
With a projected $130 million deficit looming for the next fiscal year that starts July 1, Gov. Deval Patrick and other state officials have pledged to work with lawmakers on a long-term financial fix for the MBTA as well as for other regional transit systems in Massachusetts.
While vowing to employ “all the tools in the toolbox” to address the T’s money woes, Scott said she couldn’t promise riders that there wouldn’t be another fare increase next year.
“I’m a very straightforward person. I don’t have a crystal ball to make those kind of assurances,” she said in an interview.
“There is going to have to be significant reinvestment,” Scott said. “The things that we’re talking about here, quite candidly, they don’t shock me. Every single major transit system is going through the same thing.”
Among those is the Atlanta system that Scott is leaving.
A recent audit found the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority would have to cut more services in a few years if it doesn’t control runaway costs. It also found the agency was spending $50 million above the national average for employee benefits.
The audit by the private firm KPMG was commissioned by MARTA’s board of directors. The same board in 2010 also retained a business psychologist to work with Scott and her top staff on their management styles.
Richard Davey, the Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, said Monday that the MBTA board wasn’t aware of the audit or so-called executive coach in Atlanta when it chose Scott for the $220,000-a-year position. But he said it was unlikely the information would have changed the board’s mind.
Davey cited Scott’s more than 30 years of experience in public transit management and said she took difficult steps to address MARTA’s financial problems.
“(Scott) went through a tough time down there … she laid off a couple of hundred employees, so to say that she hasn’t made some tough decisions to close a budget gap would just be incorrect,” he said.
Davey also attributed the Atlanta board’s hiring of the psychologist to work with Scott to a handful of subordinates who objected to what he called her tough, “no-nonsense” approach to the job.
“I’m not particularly sympathetic to people who may have been whining about her trying to get the most out of people,” he said.
Davey said the MBTA, the nation’s fifth-largest transit system, has been crippled by debt accumulated over the years. He said the T would spend more on debt service than on salaries this year.
State officials haven’t been specific on how they would seek to raise revenue to erase the deficit, though prior suggestions have included raising the state’s gasoline tax, now at 21 cents a gallon.