Feds ask MBTA to address dozens of safety issues

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The Federal Transit Administration is ordering the MBTA to address more than four dozen safety areas.

In its report released Wednesday, the FTA said those safety areas include a lack of staff, a bad safety culture, and a need to improve training.

For reaction to the report, WBUR's Morning Edition was joined by Jarred Johnson, chief operating officer of the of the local advocacy group Transit Matters.

Highlights from this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On what stands out most from the report

"The first reaction is it's definitely illuminating and concerning. But I think there's a lot in here that a lot of advocates have been saying for four years somewhere that we finally have the the federal government sort of agreeing with us.

But I think the biggest thing that sticks out is a lack of investment in people. The [Gov. Charlie] Baker administration has patted themselves on the back on how much money that they've been able to get out of the door when it comes to capital spending. But the FTA points out that they have not done a good job of balancing both, putting money into the operating budget, which is day-to-day maintenance, that there's staff to make sure that things are running safely. But I do think it's important to note that it's about balancing the two. It's not that we can't do large projects because some of the large projects that they pointed out had a hard time balancing are things like new Red and Orange Line vehicles, which are critical safety element in and of themselves."

On why long-term projects haven't been balanced with daily issues

"I think the biggest issue is that there's been a vision for transit and that I don't think operations or even service has just been that important to Beacon Hill, which is really sad to say. But when you look at the amount of service that we're running, it's worse than before the global financial crisis. Some of that is traffic. ... But partially the traffic is because the service hasn't been seen as reliable and hasn't been frequent enough. The team has not kept up with with the growth of new areas of town. Like there are whole regions of, say, an area like Brighton, that have been massively built up. But the bus service hasn't kept up there. There's not train service in some of these areas.

We have a commuter rail network. But before that started, it was bursting at the seams. And there wasn't room for more riders because they weren't able to provide the level of service. So I think — again — I think it just comes down to service not being important, and the day-to-day maintenance not being important."

On communities of color being most impacted by service cuts

"I mean, it's hard not to draw that conclusion, I think. Time and time again, we've seen that even in a state as wealthy as Massachusetts, we've seen inequality. We've seen a difference in where investments are made. Ultimately, I think a lot of the blame is on the Baker administration and some past administrations as well.

But, the Legislature has to share some of this blame. And so going forward, we can't have a Legislature that talks about equity, that talks about climate change and is just leaving the T to the governor and just really not getting engaged."

On whether the FTA was right to stop short of assuming safety oversight of the T

"Yes, I think so. There are a lot of people that have talked about a federal takeover; that's not something that the FTA does. There is no federal takeover coming. This is something that that leaders of Beacon Hill and that the folks at the MBTA are going to have to figure out."

This article was originally published on September 01, 2022.

This segment aired on September 1, 2022.


Rupa Shenoy Morning Edition Host
Rupa Shenoy hosts WBUR's Morning Edition.



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