Furloughs will no longer take place for 40 MBTA commuter rail employees, a shift by the T and commuter rail operator Keolis from earlier plans in the face of increasing pressure from state and federal lawmakers.
Three days after MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said in an interview with WBUR's Radio Boston that the commuter rail system was "the one place where there have been furloughs," he wrote in a letter to Congressman Stephen Lynch on Friday that "there will be no layoffs or furloughs made by either the MBTA or Keolis" in the wake of significant funding approved in the American Rescue Plan.
Poftak also said he would direct staff "to increase service levels on bus and rail as quickly as possible," though it is unclear if he was referring to plans already outlined for the coming months or an additional effort.
"We at the MBTA commit to increasing service levels as quickly as possible on the bus and subway while running the spring schedule, with the addition of 'run as directed' buses as we are able," he wrote. "Further, we will undertake a rigorous review of our hiring and training procedures in an effort to accelerate this process."
Elected officials and public transit advocates praised the decision to keep those employees working during a Friday event, but they continued to set their sights on pressuring the Baker administration into reversing service cuts on the MBTA.
The state's congressional delegation has grown increasingly vocal about its opposition to the cuts, particularly with another $1 billion in American Rescue Plan money arriving to support urban transit systems in Massachusetts on top of the more than $1 billion the MBTA has already received in stimulus funds.
"We knew that these cuts would disproportionately impact riders and workers from underserved communities," U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a pre-recorded video message the Public Transit Public Good coalition presented at its Friday rally. "People throughout the commonwealth who rely on public transportation are the very essential workers who have stepped us to help us during this public health crisis."
Boston Carmen's Union President Jim Evers, whose union represents many of the T's operators, said the cuts will create an "obvious safety issue" by increasing crowding at a time when COVID-19 remains a threat.