Governor-elect Maura Healey and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll retained Krauthamer & Associates, an executive search firm, to find the MBTA’s next permanent general manager following Steve Poftak’s resignation announcement in November, according to a Tuesday press release.
Krauthamer & Associates is “the premiere transit search firm,” according to the release, and has found hundreds of executives for transit agencies in Massachusetts and across the country.
“Choosing the best person to be the next MBTA General Manager is critical for the future of Massachusetts’ transportation system, economy, workforce, housing sector, and economic competitiveness,” Healey said in the release. “K&A will be looking statewide, nationally, and internationally to identify strong candidates who have transit and management experience and who understand the urgency of ensuring safety, reliability, and accessibility issues across the system.”
Massachusetts needs an experienced MBTA General Manager who will ensure safety, reliability, and accessibility across the system while supporting our workforce.— Maura Healey (@maura_healey) December 20, 2022
This choice is so critical. That’s why we’re retaining Krauthamer & Associates to help us find the best candidate.
Poftak will officially step down Jan. 3, 2023.
“At that time, Governor Charlie Baker will appoint an Interim General Manager” before K&A hires a permanent replacement, according to the release.
The search for a new MBTA general manager comes at a time when the agency is facing myriad challenges, including a series of serious accidents on the transit system. Earlier this month, the Federal Transit Administration rejected a dozen of the MBTA’s plans to improve its hiring process, safety management, risk assessment and monitoring, and quality control, sending the agency back to the drawing board.
The MBTA has also been under fire for heavy cuts to subway and bus services. This July, service on the Red, Blue, and Orange lines decreased by more than 20 percent during an ongoing staffing shortage and following safety edicts from the federal government after a series of terrifying incidents, including the death of a passenger whose arm was caught in the faulty door of a Red Line car. And just this week, the MBTA implemented additional service cuts on nine bus routes, many of them decreasing service during rush hour, according to the MBTA’s website.
The ongoing issues add up to a daunting challenge for the next person to manage the troubled transit agency.
Matthew Petersen, programs manager at Boston transit advocacy group TransitMatters, said he hopes the MBTA’s new leader will “go back to the basics,” and ensure the T fulfills its purpose: to seamlessly and safely take riders where they want to go.
To do this, Petersen said he hopes the new manager will prioritize hiring maintenance workers to keep the T safe. The new leader should also understand that the challenges the agency faces — safety concerns, staff shortages, delays, service cutbacks — are related and should be addressed collectively, he said.
“We have to remember that it isn’t an either-or decision,” he said. “Things that are necessary for safety are also necessary for improving service overall.”
The next general manager must also gain the trust of the agency’s thousands of employees, be approachable and receptive to feedback, and have a communicative and transparent relationship with the public, Petersen said.
“Direct communication is one of the biggest differences that people can feel in a short time,” he said.
Thomas Glynn, a public policy lecturer at Harvard, former CEO of Massachusetts Port Authority, and general manager of the MBTA from 1989 to 1991, said well-functioning public transit is critical to a booming Boston economy because its the “lifeblood” to commuters who rely on the T to travel to and from work.
“[Companies] need a strong T to have a labor force so people can show up and do their jobs,” he said.
Glynn said his time as the MBTA’s general manger focused on funneling more investment into the transit agency, which led to the construction of “double-decker commuter rail coaches which are still operating today,” he said. The seemingly unending challenges the T’s newest leader will face are different from Glynn’s, he said. Despite this, Glynn shared words of advice to the next manager that transcend decades of change: Prioritize frontline employees.
“Being supportive of their work and their challenges is really critical to having a successful T because these are not easy jobs,” he said. “The frontline employees really do a great job. ... [Making] them feel that they are being supported, I think, is key.”