It's been a little over a week since the Orange Line reopened, but Boston Mayor Michelle Wu says there's still work to be done to improve the beleaguered transportation system.
"Is the Orange Line commuter experience today all of a sudden what we want it to be? No," said Wu on Tuesday's Radio Boston.
After riding the Orange Line all last week, Wu said the trains still are operating slowly but "markedly better" following the MBTA's unprecedented month-long shutdown of the line for critical repairs. She said Tuesday she hopes the T will keep focusing on safety improvements and other necessary maintenance work across the system.
"Everything that was scheduled to happen during that period did take place," said Wu. "It concluded in the period that they had promised they would be done. And we also had a lot of improvements above ground and with the stations, [like] new lighting, new stairways and cleaning that I hope give a sense of we're headed in the right direction, but we do need to keep accelerating this progress."
The MBTA is moving forward with other repairs. Currently the Green Line's D branch is closed and will remain so until the end of October. And Red Line riders can expect service shutdowns around the JFK/UMass stop the first two weekends in October.
In an hour-long interview, Mayor Wu also touched on several other topics, including Boston Public Schools bus schedules and challenges facing students with disabilities, her recent appointments to the city's zoning board and her perspectives on the national conversation around immigration and the city's role in that discussion.
Below are highlights from the conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
On how bus schedules for Boston Public Schools students have been working:
"So the target is 95% on time. And we want to not just meet that but exceed that. There's no acceptable reason for our young people, even if it's just one or two or a few, not to get to school and have that learning time. The numbers have jumped up a lot since the beginning of the year, and every day we see improvement. We're at about 99% within the first 15 minutes of school. But by bell time ... I think it's still closer to 90% or 92% in the morning. And then it's a little bit still lagging in the afternoon as we see the impacts of traffic kind of ripple throughout the schedule of the day.
"We are in a much better place this year compared to previous years ... all of our official routes are covered, meaning there's a driver assigned. Now with so many routes, we're transporting 20,500 students every single day.
"So drivers, everyone, if they're out sick for the day, if something comes up, if they're late, then it kind of ... we need to build up more of a cushion for having that unpredictability built in. But we are responsible in Boston by state law, not only for transporting students to Boston public schools, but to many other non-BPS schools as well, and placements for our students with disabilities outside the city altogether. So we have some routes going out to Worcester, to New Hampshire, to Cape Cod, and regional traffic really has a lot of impact."
On transportation challenges facing students with disabilities:
"Particularly for students with disabilities, we are not there yet. And so that's where I worry about most. The percentages are looking good. They're headed in the right direction. But the experience for families with students who have critical needs, and by law are required to have a bus monitor present throughout their bus ride to ensure that there's care and support along the way ... when we are short of staffing on bus monitors or when we don't quite get to the stop in the right location or the timing is unpredictable, it really affects the day-to-day routines and schedules for families who very much need those routines."
On replacing 10 of the 14 members of Boston's Zoning Board of Appeal:
"There are many changes that we need to make. Our number one goal was to ensure that we could capture the kinds of representation for the diversity of our communities, as well as expertise that's needed to truly have a planning, development and approvals process that is centered around affordability, equity and climate resiliency.
"I think previously there were different seats for different industries or neighborhoods that were very siloed in some ways ... I just want to thank everyone who has served. These are essentially volunteer positions that require a ton of time and energy. And so it is truly a labor of love for the city to sit in one of these roles.
"We wanted to have a board that across the entire slate reflected a mix of expertise and backgrounds and neighborhoods. And I'm really grateful. I'm proud of the group that we've put forward. They really represent all of the experience level, you know renters and folks from immigrant communities, affordable housing experts, climate experts, community organizers. This will be a group that can really — throughout their shared expertise and not just representing individual communities or causes — be able to serve the city."
On staff openings in Boston city government:
"Our current public works staff are working incredibly, incredibly hard. They do an amazing job. We have about 50 positions to fill just in terms of the folks who are on that team alone. We have job fairs. We want to get folks in the door. There are hundreds of postings across the city on the city website. So if anyone is interested in helping us connect with an organization that might help co-host a job fair or get folks in the door. These are great jobs for local residents, where there's training, there's support and the chance to move up through the career pipeline."
On supporting immigrants coming to Boston:
"We have been a safe harbor as a city for centuries. That is part of our role, certainly at the municipal level. We do our best and need support and coordination from our state partners and from the federal government.
"This is a national issue that we need resources to be able to help support those seeking asylum. We need shortened timelines to process the asylum requests that come in. We need the court system to move faster and we need service organizations that are being funded by federal or state government to be able to process those requests that come in outside of 9 to 5 during the workdays as well.
"And so there's a lot of pieces that end up spilling over to local government, and we are pushing for coordination and for resources in conjunction with our partners. Boston has always been a center city and a city that is a hub for services ... we know how to connect and create the the welcoming ecosystem, but we need funding to make that happen and we need that support for our community partners, the organizations on the ground."
On how she wants people to view elections in the future, especially in November:
"What I hope is that we can see elections as not just the first time that someone is appearing in our community and what they are saying in that moment. But a track record and what the history has been so that we can have a better sense of what direction we might be headed ... it is why that face-to-face contact is so important and why door knocking and phone calling really can make an impact and should be a key component of how people run campaigns.
"But I hope that we will stay focused, that these positions are much more than about the individual people in their personalities in those seats. They're about teams and decisions and policies that get made. And so having a clear sense of what someone has stood for in the past, what they are fully committed to, and therefore will be accountable for in the future, that I think has to be the baseline as well."