The MBTA's leadership and rank-and-file staff have not done enough to ensure its public transit service operates safely, the head of the T's governing board said Thursday while calling on those up and down the agency's ranks to redouble their efforts.
In the first MBTA Board of Directors meeting since a June 1 collision between two Green Line trains, board chair Betsy Taylor said she was "dismayed and concerned" by the incident, which sent four drivers to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
"During the past year, the MBTA has made genuine progress in implementing and tracking safety measures, but clearly, there is more work to do," Taylor said. "Do I have confidence in the safety management plan, in the capital investments designed to improve safety, and in the general manager and the employees who are focusing on safety? Yes, I do. Have their efforts been enough? No. Therefore, I now challenge the general manager, the safety officer and every employee of the T to do more."
The most recent crash remains under investigation and officials have not yet announced a cause, though they signaled last week that the probe is focusing on potential human errors.
Taylor's comments and those made by other board members put additional, publicly visible pressure on MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, Chief Safety Officer Ronald Ester and the thousands of employees at the agency amid a stretch of high-profile incidents and failures that prompted a federal safety probe.
"We recognize that people at all levels of this organization are critical to building a world-class safety culture, and we ask that the employees in the workforce do that because our customers rely on it," said board member Scott Darling, who chairs the safety, health and environment subcommittee.
The Gov. Charlie Baker-appointed board on Thursday unanimously approved a $2.55 billion budget for fiscal year 2023 that adds 330 more full-time employee positions, nearly 150 of which would focus on safety needs flagged by an independent panel more than two years ago.
MBTA officials are once again staring into the financial void with a budget gap of $236 million likely to hit next year and the remaining pandemic-era emergency federal aid unable to fill the gap.
But Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler signaled Thursday that the Baker administration does not want those constraints to make the MBTA's leadership hesitate to make safety-related investments.
"I also want to, in the spirit of what the chair said, make clear my expectation and I believe the others on this board's expectation that the staff and the general manager will take to us, as a board, any and all investments that will continue to advance safety if they're not budgeted," Tesler said. "When asked, we will continue to find ways to resource and invest in safety because it's our primary function."
The independent safety panel that examined the MBTA in 2019 concluded that fiscal belt-tightening played a role in safety lapses at the agency alongside frequent lapses in maintenance and inspections and a lack of trust in leadership.
When facing questions about the T, Baker regularly points to an increase in capital spending -- which covers maintenance, modernization and expansion -- his administration has overseen in the past seven-plus years.
"Everybody wants to chase the shiny ball. I get it, and you don't get any credit from anyone for making the investments we've made to modernize the system," Baker said Thursday at a New England Council event. "But it's the modernizing of the system that makes it safer."
Still, aside from a House-approved bill that died in the Senate in 2020 after COVID-19 hit, neither Baker nor legislative leaders have shown any real interest in rethinking how the state contributes to the T's operating budget or addressing its persistent shortfalls.