More than three months after the MBTA's previous board expired, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday brought its successor fully into existence by announcing appointees to the transportation authority's board of directors.
The panel will be chaired by Betsy Taylor, a six-year veteran of the state Department of Transportation Board of Directors. Baker also selected Robert Butler, vice president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO; Thomas "Scott" Darling, a safety consultant; Travis McCready, executive director of the U.S. Life Sciences Market for JLL; and Mary Beth Mello, the principal at Mello Transportation Consulting.
Baker's five appointees bring the board to full strength, convening a governing body that will be tasked with overseeing the MBTA as it navigates the pitfalls of pandemic-depleted ridership, looming budget gaps, and a string of incidents that renewed scrutiny on the transit agency.
Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance, said she is "cautiously optimistic" the new board will be up to the task despite carrying over no members from the Fiscal and Management Control Board and a months-long gap between that predecessor panel's final meeting and the new board's yet-to-be-scheduled first meeting.
"Given that there are no board members who served on the previous board and the reasonably long gap, that means that this board has a lot of catch-up to do and a lot of work to do and basically no time to do it," Thompson said in an interview. "It's not that it's an impossible feat, but it's going to be tough and it's going to take a lot of time."
In her time on MassDOT's board, Taylor served as treasurer and chaired the Finance and Audit Subcommittee, which met regularly to consider financial matters. Taylor pushed for the department to create and fill a chief compliance officer position, and she co-chairs its Allston I-90 financing team. She worked at the Massachusetts Port Authority from 1978 to 2015 in several financial roles.
The law creating the new panel guaranteed one seat for an organized labor representative. Butler, who also serves as Northeast Regional Council President for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, had been one of three people on a shortlist the Massachusetts AFL-CIO delivered to Baker.
Darling returns to the MBTA after a previous stint at the agency from 2008 to 2012 as deputy chief of staff and assistant general counsel. He also worked as chief of safety, security and control center operations for the Chicago Transit Authority.
Before McCready joined JLL, he served as president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and as vice president of programs for The Boston Foundation. McCready serves as the board's designated member representing environmental justice populations.
Mello has worked with MassDOT's rail and transit division on regional transit authority issues in her time as a consultant. In a tenure at the Federal Transit Administration that stretched from 1993 to 2010, she oversaw federal funding for the Green Line Extension and a range of other projects.
"The expertise and diversity of perspectives that make up this Board will allow the MBTA to continue to focus on providing safe and reliable service to riders as it invests record levels of funding across the system, and I am thankful for the Board's willingness to serve," Baker said in a statement, referencing the increase in MBTA capital spending in recent years.
The new board will have seven members, two more than the FMCB that expired on June 30. Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler will serve on the panel, as will Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, a Baker ally who was previously appointed by the independent MBTA Advisory Board that represents municipalities who help fund the T.
"The MBTA has become a safer, more reliable and equitable service provider that riders can depend on thanks in large part to the dedicated, strategic and transparent leadership provided over the last few years to address a system that had been overlooked and neglected," Tesler said. "As the MBTA turns this corner, and we collectively emerge from the pandemic, the General Manager and his team are well positioned to continue to address ridership and revenue challenges, while successfully building on the record capital investments and customer-focused initiatives that have improved on-time performance, safety and reliability."
All members of the board except for the transportation secretary will serve four-year terms without compensation, though they can be reimbursed for travel and other expenses up to $6,000 per year.
Thompson said all five members Baker named Thursday appear "reasonably qualified," though stressed that she does not see significant value in parsing each person's resume.
"We all sort of speculated in this exact same way when the FMCB was appointed a little over five years ago, and that speculation wasn't productive. What really mattered was seeing them in action in those board meetings," she said. "I'm frankly much less interested in digging through the bios of these folks — they all seem reasonably qualified — and much more interested in finding out when the first meeting is and what their committee assignments are."
An MBTA spokesperson said Thursday that officials are working to schedule a date later this month for the first meeting of the new board.
Once that arrives, members will need to hit the ground running.
The MBTA continues to grapple with a significantly depleted base of ridership more than a year and a half after COVID-19 hit, leaving long-term commuting patterns and revenue projects in flux as the agency leans on roughly $2 billion in federal aid to close gaps.
A Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report published in September cautioned that the MBTA could face "fiscal calamity" in several years if the agency does not substantially overhaul its finances or if lawmakers do not decide to steer more dollars toward public transit.
And in just the past few months, a Green Line trolley crash, an escalator malfunction at Back Bay station that injured several people, and a Red Line derailment have thrust the T's safety culture back into the spotlight.
"They have their work cut out for them," said Transportation for Massachusetts Interim Director Josh Ostroff. "Our statewide coalition looks forward to working with the MBTA Board and staff to address critical issues around safety, equity, affordability, climate resilience and modernization. We also expect the Legislature to support the resources necessary to ensure that the MBTA fulfills its essential mission."
MBTA Advisory Board Executive Director Brian Kane, whose group represents 176 cities and towns that contribute operating dollars to the T, called the new panel's appointment "a necessary first step" toward addressing "numerous" problems.
"The new Board is a critical step in building on the strong foundation laid by the FMCB," Kane said. "It will have many challenges and will need to go well beyond the reforms put in place in recent years to ensure that the MBTA is safe and solvent."
The law creating the T Board of Directors requires at least one subcommittee on safety, health and environment, a second on planning and workforce development, and a third on audit and finance, each consisting of three members.
Baker and lawmakers created the FMCB after the disastrous winter of 2015. Over the ensuing years, the panel typically met several times per month, overseeing day-to-day operations as well as larger efforts to ramp up investment in the MBTA's maintenance, modernization and expansion spending.
Beacon Hill allowed the FMCB to dissolve on June 30, and Baker signed a law on July 29 establishing a permanent, seven-member MBTA Board of Directors.
The governor had come under fire from transportation advocates for the more than three-month wait to select members. In the gap between the previous board's expiration and Thursday's announcement, the MassDOT board took over as the T's governing body, though MBTA topics rarely came up in the handful of meetings during that span.
"We appreciate the Governor finally appointing board members to the MBTA and look forward to working with them to push forward on Bus Electrification, RegionalRail, Bus Network Redesign, Red-Blue Connector, and other key, important MBTA initiatives," said Jarred Johnson, executive director of Transit Matters. "It's critical that equity and safety be the watch words for this board. They must also continue to make the case for more investment in the T and work with the Administration and Governor to find a long term solution to the T's impending operating and capital funding shortage."