At Hearing, Warren Examines Monumental Failures of Leadership and Safety at the T
Report By Federal Transit Administration Found Long List of Management and Safety Failures by Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities
“This is a dangerous situation that has been allowed to fester for far too long. We are here today at our field hearing to examine management of the MBTA and DPU and to press for change… We need the right leadership in place at the MBTA and DPU so that we can have a functioning T that riders throughout the region can depend on.”
Boston, MA – Today, chairing a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Policy, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered remarks about the leadership and safety failures at the T by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU), following years of dangerous and deadly collisions, derailments, accidents, and delays. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined the hearing as well to question witnesses.
Senator Warren detailed the findings of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) analysis – the “numbers and rates of derailments and collisions on the MBTA rail transit system that far exceed industry average and the safety performance of MBTA’s peer transit systems.” In its August report, the FTA laid out a set of action items for MBTA and DPU to implement, which have not all been completed.
Senator Warren called for the right leadership at the MBTA and DPU to fix these monumental failures and get the T back on track.
“The people of Massachusetts need a safe system, but they also need a transit system that works—a system that is reliable, accessible, frequent, dependable, clean, and that gets you where you need to go without crazy delays,” said Senator Warren. “We need to hear firsthand from them about how the MBTA got into this mess, and how DPU allowed it to happen – and find out what they are doing to clean it up and get it back on track. That’s why I invited them to testify before this subcommittee: so the public can hold the MBTA and DPU to account.”
“It is shameful that the first public transportation system in our country has been put last, and has lost the faith of the people of Massachusetts,” said Senator Markey. “The recent Orange Line shutdown only confirms that the MBTA is failing to transparently communicate with its riders. But a better T is possible. When we lower the barriers to entry and make public transit accessible, reliable and affordable people will use it. Increased ridership gets cars off roads, reducing traffic and carbon emissions that pollute our air and warm our planet. I hope this hearing today is a first step toward making the T a vibrant, prosperous transit system worthy of our Commonwealth and its people.”
Transcript: Economic Impacts of Inadequate Transit
Maintenance and Oversight: Examining Management Failures at the Massachusetts
Bay Transportation Authority and the Massachusetts Department of Public
U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Policy
Friday, October 14, 2022
Senator Elizabeth Warren: So, this hearing will come to order.
I want to welcome all of you to a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Policy.
Public transportation is an essential service that directly influences the economic growth and access to employment in Boston and other U.S. cities, which are key issues for the Economic Policy Subcommittee. That’s why I thought it was crucial to convene this hearing about the state of the T and to invite my good friend and partner, Senator Markey, to join me.
The T is the beating heart of Greater Boston. Millions of people rely on it to get to work, to school, to our stores, to our restaurants, to go to a game, to visit friends and family – and then to make it back home. The T helps cut pollution, and, without it, Boston traffic would be even worse.
Without the T – which, in one form or another, has been around now for 150 years – our city and our Commonwealth would not be the same.
For generations, we have relied on the T. We have counted on the people and organizations in charge to make the T work for us – to make the buses and trains run safely and on time. But we can no longer rely on the T. The T is failing.
In the last two years, there's been a series of dangerous and even deadly collisions, derailments, and accidents on the T. Multiple derailments on the red line. A collision on the green line that injured dozens of people. Workplace injuries. A horrific death when a red line passenger was caught in a door and dragged off a platform.
Finally, the federal government stepped in. The Federal Transit Administration, or FTA, conducted an in-depth study and concluded that, in this two-year period, there were, quote, “numbers and rates of derailments and collisions on the MBTA rail transit system that far exceed industry average and the safety performance of MBTA’s peer transit systems.”
The list of management failures is a long one.
After the April 2022 fatality on the Red Line, the Federal Transit Administration opened a broad safety investigation of the MBTA, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, or DPU, which is responsible for oversight of the T.
The result of that investigation was released in August, and it is a long and scary list of problems. Just a partial list of troubles that FTA identified includes:
The MBTA does not have enough staff to carry out current operations – and that the agency has, quote, “not demonstrated the organizational capacity to recruit and hire personnel.”
The FTA found that, quote, “Operating and maintenance rules and procedures are not implemented as required, and that technical training is “underresourced without sufficient resources and lacks oversight.”
The FTA found that the MBTA was not conducting adequate oversight of its contractors.
The FTA found that safety risk assessment guidance was ambiguous and confusing, that management tools were not up to the task of addressing safety risks, and that MBTA’s investigations of safety problems were not even looking at all the right information.
And, FTA really laid into the T’s management, finding that – and again, I quote, “MBTA’s Executive Management does not consistently ensure its decisions related to safety risks are based on safety data analysis or documented facts.” Simple translation? When it comes to safety, the T’s management is just making it up.
And there’s more. There's another state agency responsible for oversight of the T, the Department of Public Utilities. For over 50 years, DPU has been responsible for oversight of equipment safety and operations at the MBTA. In other words, DPU is responsible for managing the management of MBTA.
But here’s what FTA had to say about how badly DPU does its job:
FTA found that the DPU does not use its resources effectively to identify and resolve safety risks.
The FTA found that DPU lacks independence from MBTA.
The FTA found that quote, “DPU has not used its authority to ensure the identification and resolution of safety issues at MBTA.”
And the FTA reached a simple and devastating conclusion. Again, I quote, according to the FTA, “DPU has not demonstrated an ability to address MBTA safety issues and concerns.”
Overall, the FTA analysis contained 20 findings regarding safety problems at MTBA and provided the agency with a list of 53 actions required to address these concerns. It also contained 4 findings regarding DPU’s failures and provided DPU with a list of 9 actions required to address these concerns. And by the way, the FTA also found that seven leftover action items from a 2019 audit of DPU remained unresolved.
This is a dangerous situation that has been allowed to fester for far too long. We are here today at our field hearing to examine management of the MBTA and DPU and to press for change.
Every single FTA action item needs to be checked off – immediately. But that alone is not enough. The people of Massachusetts need a safe system, they also need a transit system that works – a system that is reliable, accessible, frequent, dependable, clean, and that gets you where you need to go without crazy delays.
Now here's the good news. Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’ve got the resources to do it – that law will provide $580 million for modernization and safety improvements at the MBTA. In addition, Massachusetts currently has massive tax revenue surpluses.
But here’s the bad news. We can’t just buy our way out of these problems and wish our way to a T that works. We need the right leadership in place at the MBTA and DPU so that we can have a functioning T that riders throughout the region can depend on.
I know we have the right leadership in the Mayor of Boston, I appreciate Mayor Wu joining us today to talk about the importance of the T for the city and the whole metro area. We also have excellent leadership from the community. I appreciate that Jarred Johnson of Transit Matters will be here to discuss the scope of the T’s problems and their impact on residents of our community.
I also want to thank Administrator Fernandez of the FTA for accepting my invitation to join us in Boston today. The FTA report on MBTA safety is a bombshell. She will help explain what the agency found, and what role they will play in getting it fixed.
And finally, I’m glad Mr. Poftak, the MBTA General Manager, and Mr. Nelson, the DPU Chair, also accepted my invitation to appear as witnesses. We need to hear firsthand from them about how the MBTA got into this mess, and how DPU allowed it to happen – and to find out what they are doing to clean it up and get it back on track. And that is why I invited them to testify before this subcommittee, so the public can hold the MBTA and DPU to account.
So thank you to our witnesses, I'm now going to turn it over to Senator Markey for his opening statement. Senator Markey, I'm so glad that you could be here to do this – thank you for coming.
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