MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez Out After 15 Months on the Job

Steve Poftak, vice chairman of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Fiscal and Management Control Board, will take over

What to Know

  • MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez is stepping down from his position after 15 months on the job.
  • Steve Poftak will take over as the transit agency's general manager; he previously served as interim general manager before Ramirez.
  • There have been two derailments and an engine fire on several lines in the past two weeks, in addition to general delays.

MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez is out a little more than a year after being named to the position.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack announced Tuesday that the MBTA and Ramirez "mutually agreed that the time was right for him to separate from the MBTA and pursue other opportunities."

Steve Poftak, vice chairman of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Fiscal and Management Control Board, will take over as general manager, a role he briefly filled on an interim basis before Ramirez's hiring.

In a statement, Poftak said his main focus will be improving MBTA service and reliability.

"The more I have been exposed to the MBTA’s workings from the inside, the greater respect I have for the ability of the MBTA workforce and managers to operate this enormously complex system every day and to develop and implement ways to improve performance," he said. "I am excited about leading the MBTA to provide a premier region with a premier transit agency."

Ramirez, a former General Electric executive, was hired as the MBTA's general manager in September of 2017. But his tenure was plagued by the same types of inconsistencies and mishaps on the commuter rail and subway system experienced by his predecessors.

In the past two weeks alone, two derailments and an engine fire caused delays on several lines. And on Tuesday morning, #redline was trending on Twitter in Boston as riders voiced their displeasure over a series of delays.

"I was brought in to the MBTA from the outside corporate world to bring a fresh business perspective and skills to the MBTA," Ramirez said in a statement. "With the progress we have achieved around financial and operational execution, this is a good time to transition to someone with different skill sets."

When he was hired, he was given a three-year contract with a base salary of $320,000.

Ramirez said he is proud of what he accomplished and loved working for the MBTA.

Poftak is stepping down from his current position of executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at the Harvard Kennedy School and will officially take over at the T on Jan. 1, 2019. MBTA Deputy General Manager Jeffrey Gonneville will assume the general manager's duties until that time.

Massachusetts House Transportation Chair, Bill Straus, said the shake-up is not so much a reflection on Ramirez as on the MBTA itself. Straus said the state's many transit challenges will be just as difficult for Poftak and that real change will require more focus and resources from Gov. Charlie Baker and the legislature.

"I think this is less about Luis and really more about the T needing to be moving faster and working better for the people that rely on it every day," Dempsey said.

Commonwealth Magazine Editor Bruce Mohl, a long time observer and writer of the state’s transportation system, says Ramirez’s public persona was a cautious one.

"He would come to control board meetings and read everything he was saying which was different from what everybody else did," Mohl said. "So it's sort of indicated that he was not comfortable with public facing approach."

Both Dempsey and Mohl had positive things to say about Poftak, who has been the vice chair of the MBTA's fiscal management and control board since 2015.

"He's someone that knows the system well, he rides it himself every day," said Dempsey. "He's going to have that rider perspective."

"He knows all the upper management... so he can step in and there's a comfort level that everybody knows who he is and what he's all about," added Mohl.

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