Proposed bill would create new commission to oversee MBTA safety

Members of the Joint House Committee on Transportation met on Monday to hear proposals for several bills geared toward improving or changing the way people in the state get around. Among the bills reviewed was a proposal to create a new commission to oversee the safety of the MBTA.

The Massachusetts’ Department of Public Utilities has been tasked with overseeing the safety at the T for years. The DPU also provides oversight of electric and gas companies and water utilities. For the last few years, the effectiveness of the DPU's oversight of the T has been called into question.

State Sen. Michael Barrett, sponsor of a bill that would remove transportation safety from the DPU, said his proposal would create a state agency that can solely focus on transportation.

“It’s not a matter of the people not doing their job, it’s a structural problem,” Sen. Barrett said. “Structurally, the DPU will always be distracted.”

Under the legislation, a new commission would take over the DPU’s transportation-related functions from overseeing the T to regulating moving truck companies and companies that tow or move hazardous waste. The commission would even oversee ridesharing in the state, a current function of the DPU.

LivableStreets Alliance Executive Director Stacy Thompson supports the measure. “This is about multiple industries that [DPU officials] oversee and regulate, and making sure that there is a transparent, independent body that can look at all of those issues and make sure that we are regulating them in the most safe way.”

Thompson said the bill is in line with the findings of a Federal Transit Administration review of the MBTA from last year.

“The federal government was literally like, ‘Yo, you need some separation, you need some transparent oversight. So I think it's a really good crack at looking at that guidance, looking at examples from other states and trying to envision what that would look like in Massachusetts,” Thompson said.

More than a dozen people testified during the joint committee hearing in favor of moving safety oversight of the T to a new commission.