On a visit to a MBTA repair facility Wednesday, Governor-elect Maura Healey alluded to a timeline for naming a new T general manager but did not provide a more specific update on when that role may be filled.
“We are hustling hard for the next general manager,” Healey told reporters after she and Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll toured the T’s main repair facility in Everett Wednesday morning. “Our goal is to work as quickly, as expeditiously as possible, but we also want to do everything we can to get it right.”
When asked whether the search for a new general manager could take a year, Healey’s eyes widened.
“A year? We think sooner,” she said. “We’re going to work as quickly as we can. . . . I hope this is a matter of weeks and not several months, but that is the goal. And I’m not going to comment on our ongoing search process.”
Healey and Driscoll, weeks away from being sworn in as the state’s top executives, announced Tuesday that they retained executive search firm Krauthamer & Associates to conduct an international hunt for the next permanent manager.
Healey will be sworn in two days after Steve Poftak, the T’s current GM, steps down, nearly a year before his contract ends, following a year of service cuts, safety problems, and a scathing conditions report by the Federal Transit Administration.
In the meantime, outgoing Governor Charlie Baker will appoint an interim general manager, but has not yet announced who that will be. A spokesperson for the Baker Administration said Wednesday it had no update on who would fill the role. Healey called Baker’s appointment appropriate since Potfak’s resignation falls within his term.
On Wednesday, Healey and Driscoll emphasized the agency’s staffing and equipment shortages and vowed to increase investment by the state when they take office.
Healey said investments in the T will “no doubt” be reflected in her first budget, expected to be released early next year.
The MBTA is still operating largely off federal pandemic relief dollars, but when that funding runs out in summer 2023, the agency estimates it will see a $236 million shortfall in its budget, which could grow to $406 million the following year, the Globe previously reported.
Healey also plans to hire a transportation safety chief, who she said will conduct an audit of the entire system.
The incoming administration has not yet named a secretary of transportation, though Healey said it could happen before her inauguration.
When asked if it would happen before Christmas on Sunday, she laughed.
“When’s Christmas?” she said.
As Healey and Driscoll walked through the facility, sparks flew, large pieces of metal were hoisted into the air, and workers bustled about. But Healey said the relatively busy scene did not fully reflect the MBTA’s staffing issues.
“This place is bustling this morning, but there aren’t enough workers for a second shift or a third shift,” she said. “People are doing tremendous things here, but simply don’t have enough numbers to support the work that they’re doing.”
Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the MBTA, said the agency has 872 employees in its engineering and maintenance division, up 35 since this time last year. The division is budgeted for 1,076 employees, but that figure was increased for the 2022 fiscal year in anticipation of increased maintenance system-wide, Pesaturo said.
Healey said those staffing shortages highlight a need for additional vocational schools across the state, which can “create a pipeline of workers” into the future.
She told the Globe in an interview earlier this week that the next secretary and MBTA general manager will have to bring “an energy and an urgency” to address the safety concerns experts say have been exacerbated by the workforce crisis.
“The T is down thousands of employees. The Department of Transportation is down hundreds of employees,” she said. “It’s absolutely essential.”
Driscoll said those she met at the facility seemed excited about their work but “want some more help.” She said additional funding would be required to boost the agency next year.