The MBTA’s safety failures have attracted the attention of federal lawmakers.
Senator Elizabeth Warren will join Senator Ed Markey, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Federal Transit Administrator Nuria Fernandez, and Transit Matters Executive Director Jarred Johnson at a congressional subcommittee hearing in Boston on Friday, Oct. 14 to discuss the economic impact of inadequate maintenance of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, according to Warren’s office. Warren chairs the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs’ Subcommittee on Economic Policy.
Warren has invited MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak and Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Chair Matthew Nelson to testify.
“The T has had a monumental failure in leadership, commuters are the ones paying the price, and it’s time to hold folks accountable and make the necessary changes so everybody can have a safe and dependable ride,” Warren said in a statement to the Globe. “I hope that MBTA Manager Poftak and DPU Chair Nelson will appear at the hearing and share their plan to get the T back on track.”
The goal of a committee hearing is to get answers for the public about a particular issue or problem. A “field hearing,” such as the one Warren is convening in Boston, is rare. Most are held at the US Capitol.
The meeting comes less than two months after the FTA issued a scathing report about safety at the MBTA following a year of serious incidents, including the dragging death of a passenger on the Red Line in April.
“The combination of overworked staff and aging assets has resulted in the organization being overwhelmed, chronic fatigue for key positions in the agency, lack of resources for training and supervision, and leadership priorities that emphasize meeting capital project demands above passenger operations, preventive maintenance, and even safety,” the report said.
The report also said the DPU has not used its full authority to prevent safety failures at the MBTA and ordered the agency to complete a legal assessment of its independence from the T.
In response to the FTA’s preliminary finding over the summer that dispatchers at its operations control center were working shifts as long as 20 hours, the MBTA cut subway service by more than 20 percent, increasing wait times for trains and frustrating riders. Though they were supposed to last only through the summer, those cuts remain in place.
The FTA also found persistent track defects, especially on the Orange Line where the MBTA had put speed restrictions in place for several years in some cases. The MBTA shut down the entire Orange Line from mid-August to mid-September for upgrades. Despite promises of faster service post-shutdown, travel times remain slower from end to end on Orange Line compared to before the shutdown, according to the tracker from Transit Matters, a public transportation advocacy group.