Governor Maura Healey’s move late this week to replace three members of the MBTA’s board of directors with her own picks not only promises to reshape a body long criticized for its inaction, but signals the new governor has taken ownership of the beleaguered T, which has been plagued by service cuts, hiring woes, and safety incidents that spurred a federal inspection.
Transit advocates and politicos applauded her appointments Friday, with many especially heaping high praise on her decision to make Thomas P. Glynn chairman of the MBTA board. Glynn, who previously served as the MBTA’s general manger under Governor Michael Dukakis and then as chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority, has been described by his peers as one of the most influential minds in the state’s transportation sector. He also advised Healey as a leader of her transition team.
“We are not looking for perfection, we are looking for people who will be engaged,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of Livable Streets, a local transportation advocacy group. “If people the Healey administration is appointing do the work we assume they will do, in a year or two the T will feel different to the riding public.”
Glynn said Friday that he is excited to return to the MBTA in a different capacity and vowed the board would take on “the sense of urgency this crisis demands.”
“We can’t settle for the status quo — we need bold action to meet this moment and address the challenges facing the T right now,” said Glynn, who is now an adjunct lecturer in public management at the Harvard Kennedy School.
In addition to Glynn, Healey also appointed Thomas M. McGee, former Lynn mayor and former Senate chair of the legislature’s transportation committee, and Eric L. Goodwine, a commercial banker from Worcester. Those three, along with Healey’s transportation secretary, Gina Fiandaca, give the governor control of the seven-member board. The other members are Chanda Smart, Robert Butler, and Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch.
The new appointments come less than four weeks after Healey named a veteran transportation executive, Phillip Eng, who previously led the Long Island Rail Road, to be the T’s new general manager.
The MBTA oversees the T’s subway and bus systems, commuter rail, ferries, and paratransit, which together serve 176 cities and towns in the state. Riders took 362 million trips on MBTA vehicles in fiscal year 2019 and 203 million trips in fiscal year 2022, according to an analysis from the Department of Transportation.
It is also a system in crisis.
Last month, the T took the unprecedented step to slow the entire subway system to a top speed of 25 miles per hour — down from 40 miles per hour — when it could not account for track defects found by its state oversight agency, the Department of Public Utilities.
Riders have endured drastic service cuts and a long series of grave safety incidents over the last 18 months, including a falling ceiling panel that nearly struck a commuter last month. The new general manager’s first day earlier this month coincided with the one-year anniversary of the death of Robinson Lalin, a 39-year-old who was dragged by a Red Line train at Broadway Station. Lalin’s death, as well as a number of other safety incidents, spurred a federal safety inspection of the agency last year.
The previous board had been faulted for not playing a strong enough oversight role, including by failing to ask questions about serious safety incidents at public meetings, such as the escalator malfunction at the Back Bay station in September 2021 that jolted dozens of riders into a bloody pileup or about Lalin’s death on the Red Line.
At a meeting on Wednesday, board members listened impassively as voicemails on a public comment line were played: “You people are evil,” said one caller. “None of you people need to be in this position. You’re horrible, horrible, horrible — letting the city down.”
Duane Jackson, a developer who sat on the Massachusetts Port Authority board while Glynn was CEO, said he is the right leader to effectively steer the T to facilitate much needed change.
“With respect to the MBTA, it’s unquestionable that it is in a state of crisis. It’s not functional, and you have an economy and workforce that is reliant on it,” Jackson said. “I have nothing but superlatives for Tom. He is a consummate manager.”
The appointments signal a shift, observers say, and that riders will soon see a difference in how the T operates. After hiring Eng last month, the Healey administration is still in the process of finding a safety chief to help restore public trust in the system. A refresh to the board is yet another welcome change, the system’s critics say.
“The outgoing board was . . . out of touch, out of its depth, and fully unprepared to deal with the realities the T faces today,” said Jim Aloisi, who served as transportation secretary under Governor Deval Patrick.
Though greatly appreciated by advocates, some lamented Healey’s delay in replacing Baker’s board appointees with her own. Three of Baker’s appointees could have been replaced in January, they note.
“The performance of the board was one of the things that many of us flagged during the campaign,” Thompson, from Livable Streets, said.
Observers said the appointment of Goodwine will infuse financial sensibilities into the board and is a reminder that the MBTA serves many communities outside of Boston. And having Glynn and McGee, both of whom are long familiar with Massachusetts politics and its transportation crisis, will help Eng, who comes from New York, ease into his new role.
“This board is going to hit the ground running because of who is on it,” Aloisi added. “Tom McGee and Tom Glynn don’t have learning curves.”
Those who closely watched the T’s board under the Baker administration said his hires’ poor performance reflected on him and his legacy on transportation. Healey’s choices will also reflect on the new governor as she works through the T’s seemingly endless issues already coloring her first term.
Chris Dempsey, an assistant transportation secretary under Patrick, recalls the historic 2015 snowstorm that hit Boston and paralyzed the MBTA 18 days after the governor took office. It was a moment in the Baker administration, Dempsey said, that made it clear the T was his problem to solve.
“We have reached that moment in the Healey-Driscoll administration,” he said, noting the T’s myriad issues. “It’s now on their plate. But that doesn’t mean things will be radically changed overnight.”
Tonya Alanez of the Globe staff contributed to this report.