Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday appointed five people to the new board of directors charged with overseeing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, filling the panel weeks after he initially said he would.
Betsy Taylor, a member of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board and a former Massport finance official, will serve as chairwoman of the seven-member panel. It’s at least the third time the Republican governor has picked Taylor for a transportation-related oversight role: He selected her for the MassDOT panel in 2015, and she also serves as a Baker appointee to the nearly $1.76 billion MBTA Retirement Fund’s board.
The other selections are:
♦Thomas “Scott ” Darling, an independent consultant, former T official, and a former safety chief for the Chicago Transit Authority. Darling was also an Obama appointee who led the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
♦Travis McCready, the executive director of US Life Sciences Market for the global real estate and investment firm JLL. McCready is also the former president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.
♦Mary Beth Mello, a consultant who has worked with the MassDOT Rail and Transit Division and a former long-time Federal Transit Administration official.
♦Robert Butler, who serves as president of the Northeast Regional Council of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.
They join Mayor Thomas Koch of Quincy, who was appointed by the MBTA Advisory Board and is a longtime Baker ally, and Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler, who will serve as an ex officio member on the new board.
The new panel will take the helm of T oversight after its last governing body, the Fiscal and Management Control Board, disbanded over the summer. The governor and the Legislature formed that group in 2015 in the wake of a devastating series of snowstorms that paralyzed the transit system, effectively giving Baker a direct hand in guiding an agency long plagued by crumbling infrastructure and underinvestment. Lawmakers extended its original five-year term for one year last summer.
A MBTA spokesman said officials hope to schedule the board’s first monthly meeting for later in October.
“The expertise and diversity of perspectives that make up this Board will allow the MBTA to continue to focus on providing safe and reliable service to riders as it invests record levels of funding across the system,” Baker said in a statement.
Transit advocates hoped Baker would move more quickly to put together the new board, and many were cautious in assessing the picks, saying they were eager to see how they would operate.
“The appointment of the new board is a really important first step,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance. “What we need is that first board meeting to happen as soon as possible and see what their actions are going to be as board members.”
In early August, Baker said he’d likely announce his picks in four to six weeks. Since then, the MBTA has been plagued by a series of safety incidents, raising calls for stricter oversight.
On Sept. 11, a Boston University professor fell to his death from a dilapidated staircase near the JFK/UMass T stop in Dorchester. On Sept. 26, an ascending escalator at the Back Bay T station suddenly reversed, resulting in a bloody pileup of people and nine being sent to the hospital. And on Sept. 28, a Red Line car derailed and hit the platform at Broadway station in South Boston, upending commutes.
Those troubling events came after a speeding Green Line train collided with a slower-moving one on July 30, sending 27 people to the hospital.
The MBTA, which employs 6,308 full- and part-time workers, is in charge of the T’s train and bus rapid transit systems, commuter rail, ferries, and paratransit, together serving 176 cities and towns in the state. Riders took 362 million trips on MBTA vehicles in fiscal year 2019, according to an analysis from the Department of Transportation.
The new board will face a steep set of short-term and long-term challenges, including averting future safety incidents, preventing station and track flooding amid stronger, more frequent storms, and keeping the system funded when federal COVID-19 relief money runs out over the next few years. Members will also be in charge of approving budgets, setting fares, and opining about staffing levels and projects.
Keeping the system funded should be at the top of the new board’s to-do list, said Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, whose recent report found that the MBTA’s operating and capital shortfalls coming in fiscal year 2024 will require $1.25 billion in new funding annually.
The appointments come “not a moment too soon given the dire fiscal challenges confronting the agency,” McAnneny said. “With fiscal year 2024 right around the corner, their continued focus on and prioritization of resolving the T’s financial challenges is critical to a viable public transit agency.”
Under the previous board’s direction, the MBTA increased fares and hiked capital spending from around $600 million in fiscal year 2014 to $1.92 billion in fiscal year 2021, according to Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the T. The MBTA plans to spend $2 billion on capital investments in fiscal year 2022.
Transit advocates have been anxiously awaiting the governor’s appointments since July 29, when Baker signed a supplemental budget into law, creating the new seven-member board.
Under the law, one of the appointees had to be picked from a list of three people submitted to Baker by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO; Butler is that appointee. Another had to be a resident of a so-called environmental justice population, a neighborhood that, for example, includes a certain share of minority residents or residents who lack English language proficiency, or does not exceed a certain median household income.
McCready, a Black Lexington resident, fills that role, according to Baker’s office. A MassDOT official described McCready as a regular Red Line and MBTA bus rider. Half the residents of Lexington — which has a median household income of $186,201 and a population that is 63 percent white — qualify as living in environmental justice neighborhoods.
A coalition of advocacy groups had offered Baker two recommendations for the seat, including residents of Revere and Dorchester. “It was definitely a missed opportunity for the governor,” said Staci Rubin, vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation.
State law requires that two of the new MBTA board members also serve on the MassDOT Board. Taylor has served as the vice chairwoman of the MassDOT Board; the second crossover member — Koch — was appointed to the MassDOT Board on Thursday.