Nearly three months after the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s former oversight board disbanded, transit advocates are anxiously awaiting Governor Charlie Baker’s appointments to the new board charged with supervising the sprawling transit system.
Seven weeks have passed since Baker, a Republican, said he’d probably announce his appointments to the new board “in the next four to six weeks.” The Legislature and the governor created the seven-person panel to oversee the MBTA on July 29.
But Baker aides signaled Monday that the wait might be coming to an end.
“The administration is in the process of finalizing appointments and will have an update soon,” a Baker spokesman said.
Baker directly appoints five of the seven spots. The two others are already filled. The MBTA Advisory Board, which represents the 176 cities and towns in the MBTA’s service area, made its appointment — Mayor Thomas Koch of Quincy — on Aug. 24. Under the law, Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler — appointed by Baker — will serve as an ex officio member.
One of Baker’s appointees has to be picked from a list of three people submitted to the governor by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and one has to be a resident of an environmental justice population. On Aug. 9, Massachusetts AFL-CIO president Steven Tolman gave three names to the governor, and a group of transit advocacy organizations sent two recommendations for the environmental justice seat on July 23.
In August, Baker said that the MBTA’s former oversight board, the Fiscal Management and Control Board, voted on enough things at its last meeting in June to make it possible for the MBTA to function without board oversight “for some period of time.” The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is providing oversight of the MBTA in the interim.
Josh Ostroff, interim director of advocacy group Transportation For Massachusetts, said he wished the new board had been able to take over right when the FMCB ended.
“What’s disappointing is that the FMCB provided unprecedented visibility into critical decisions that affect the operation and financing of the MBTA,” he said. “To go from that to no board at all, it’s a disappointment, one we look forward to being remedied promptly.”
The MBTA is in charge of the T 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 state Department of Transportation. As of Aug. 31, the T employed 5,938 full-time employees and about 396 part-time employees.
The delay in getting the new board up and running comes as the MBTA faces a serious financial crisis. Come 2023, federal COVID-19 relief funds are expected to run out, and the agency could be short as much as $400 million on its operating budget. The agency is already facing a $13 billion shortfall on upgrades and maintenance it plans for the next decade, according to a recent report from the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
Jennifer Benson, president of the progressive Alliance for Business Leadership, said she is hopeful the appointments will be announced soon so that the board can be in a good position to handle federal funding for infrastructure that may soon make its way to the MBTA.
Both the Alliance for Business Leadership and Transportation for Massachusetts signed the July letter to the governor recommending candidates for the board’s environmental justice seat.
“I don’t mind taking a little extra time to get it right,” Benson said. “One additional week on the first timeline that was given is not that concerning to me, considering everything impacting Massachusetts right now. We need to follow closely to make sure that doesn’t turn into a long delay. . . . We are in need of some serious decisions.”