Public transportation advocates are giving Governor Charlie Baker’s late election to the new MBTA board generally positive marks, while also giving a note of caution about the tasks ahead.
Baker announced yesterday that the panel, which replaces the Board of Fiscal and Administrative Control that expired on June 30, will be chaired by Betsy Taylor, a six-year veteran of the state Department of Transportation’s Board of Directors. Baker also selected Robert Butler, vice president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO; Thomas “Scott” Darling, security consultant; Travis McCready, CEO of US Life Sciences Market for JLL; and Mary Beth Mello, director of Mello Transportation Consulting.
Baker’s five appointees bring the board to full force, convening a governing body tasked with overseeing the MBTA as it navigates the traps of the number of passengers depleted by the pandemic, looming budget gaps and a series of incidents that renewed the scrutiny of the transit agency.
Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance, said she is “cautiously optimistic” that the new board will be up to the task despite no members of the Fiscal and Administrative Control Board and a gap of months between the final meeting of that predecessor panel. and the first yet to be scheduled meeting of the new board.
“Given that there are no board members who have served on the previous board and the reasonably long gap, that means this board has a lot to catch up on and a lot of work to do and there is basically no time to do it,” Thompson said in an interview. “It’s not that it’s an impossible feat, but it will be difficult and it will take a long time.”
Members bring transit experience
In her time on the MassDOT board, Taylor served as treasurer and chaired the Finance and Audit Subcommittee, which met regularly to consider financial matters. Taylor lobbied for the department to create and fill a chief compliance officer position, and is co-chair of its Allston I-90 funding team. He worked at the Massachusetts Port Authority from 1978 to 2015 in various finance positions.
The law that created the new panel guaranteed a position for an organized union representative. Butler, who also serves as president of the Northeast Regional Council of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, had been one of three people on a short list that the Massachusetts AFL-CIO delivered to Baker.
Darling is returning to the MBTA after a previous stint at the agency from 2008 to 2012 as a deputy chief of staff and general legal assistant. He also served as the Chief Operations Officer for the Safety, Security, and Control Center 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 an appointed board member representing environmental justice populations.
Mello has worked with MassDOT’s transit and rail division on regional transit authority matters in her time as a consultant. In a position with the Federal Transit Administration that spanned from 1993 to 2010, he oversaw federal funding for the Green Line Extension and a variety of other projects.
“The experience and diversity of perspectives that make up this Board will allow the MBTA to continue to focus on providing safe and reliable service to passengers while investing record levels of funding throughout the system, and I am grateful for the Board’s willingness. to serve, Baker said in a statement, referencing MBTA’s increase in capex 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 be on the panel, as will Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, a Baker ally who was previously appointed by the MBTA Independent Advisory Board representing the municipalities that help fund the T .
Former Transportation Secretary Jim Aloisi, a prominent transit advocate, a board member of the advocacy group Transit Matters and at times critical of the Baker administration’s transit policies, tweeted his support for the new board members.
“Glad to see that the new @MBTA board has been selected. I know many of the members, they are all knowledgeable, qualified and experienced. Waiting to see how everything goes, since the governance of the #mapoli transit is essential to achieve results with a view to the future, “he said.
‘Work cut out for them’
A series of security incidents and a report describing a pending “fiscal calamity” in the agency’s capital budget had prompted many calls for the governor to name his contributions to the new MBTA board. The MassDOT board took over as the T’s governing body over the summer, though MBTA issues rarely came up in the few meetings during that span.
“They have a lot of work ahead of them,” said Acting Director of Transportation for Massachusetts Josh Ostroff. “Our state 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 hope that the Legislature will 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 appointment of the new panel a “necessary first step” in addressing “numerous” issues.
“The new board is a critical step in building on the solid foundation established by the FMCB,” said Kane. “It will have many challenges and it will have to go well beyond the reforms implemented in recent years to ensure that the MBTA is safe and solvent.”
“We appreciate that the governor has finally appointed the board members to the MBTA and look forward to working with them to advance bus electrification, regional rail, bus network redesign, red-blue connector, and other key initiatives. and MBTA importants, “Jarred Johnson, CEO of Transit Matters, said in a statement. “It is critical that fairness and safety are the keywords of this board. They must also continue to advocate for increased investment in the T and work with the Administration and the Governor to find a long-term solution to the impending shortage of capital and operational financing for the T. “