'Little by little': MBTA GM Phil Eng talks hiring sprees, slow zones and beer

MBTA General Manager Phil Eng chats with a Blue Line operator. (Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MBTA General Manager Phil Eng chats with a Blue Line operator. (Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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We’re back this morning like Bed Bath & Beyond. We’ll get you up to speed on the new Jan. 6 charges against former President Donald Trump and why they stand apart from his existing legal woes.

But we begin today with the effort to get the MBTA up to speed:

For the first time yesterday, MBTA General Manager Phil Eng took the Green Line’s newly reopened B branch to the WBUR studios for an in-person interview on Radio Boston. (“The ride was fine,” Eng said.) Still less than four months into the job, the longtime New Yorker talked to host Tiziana Dearing about the early challenges and surprises turning around the much-maligned transit system. Here’s what we learned:

  • A hiring spree knocked off track: Much of the MBTA recent woes — from service cuts to safety issues — can be traced back to a severe shortage of staff. Eng said the T is now “hiring at a rate that we’ve never hired before” and would be hitting their internal targets if current employees weren’t retiring or leaving for other jobs. “Attrition is offsetting those metrics,” he said. “That’s the next piece we’re working on.” Hours after the interview, state officials announced the MBTA and the Carmen’s Union agreed to a new contract that focuses on employee retention.
  • The slog of lifting slow zones: Since he started the job, Eng has been digging out from widespread subway slow zones due to track defects discovered last March. But just because a portion of a line gets shut down for repairs doesn’t always mean it will immediately reopen at full speed. “Each time we go in, we’re tackling different components,” he said of the upcoming diversions on the Red Line, declining to give a timeline on when all speed restrictions there would be eliminated. Instead, he said they’re being lifted “little by little.”
  • Eng also mentioned the recent Green Line B branch closure was “more about ensuring safety” through Packard’s Corner than slow zones, noting there’s “still a six-mile-an-hour restriction through that turn.”
  • After-hours: Eng is the transit GM you’d want to get a beer with. Why? He’s a home-brew hobbyist. He added he’s found “quite a few” good breweries since moving to Boston and lives across from Cambridge’s Lamplighter Brewing. His favorite style of beer? “I love a lager,” he said.

Call it Woo-niversal basic income: The city of Worcester will give 52 low-income families monthly payments of $100 to $500 for the next two years. The goal is to provide those selected some financial stability and flexibility to pursue their career goals. The Worcester Community Action Council, which will run the $250,000 program, says it’s the “first of its kind in Central Massachusetts.”

  • The details: The no-strings-attached money will be added onto preloaded gift cards that recipients can use for whatever they want. The WCAC will then track the broad spending categories to show how people use the money. Participants will have access to financial empowerment workshops and coaching.
  • WCAC executive director Marybeth Campbell told WBUR’s Samantha Coetzee they hope the program makes life less stressful for struggling families. “Our vision is to break the cycle of poverty one neighbor at a time,” Campbell said.

New England Revolution head coach Bruce Arena has been placed on administrative leave due to allegations of “insensitive and inappropriate remarks,” the team announced yesterday. No other details have been released and the MLS says it’s investigating the accusations against Arena, the league’s all-time most successful coach (he previously coached the USMNT, too).

P.S. — The newsmaker train keeps on chugging this week on Radio Boston with none other than Gov. Maura Healey at the mic. Tune in at 11 a.m.


Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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