During her first visit as governor to the MBTA’s operations control center Thursday, Maura Healey made some sweeping promises: make the historically secretive agency more transparent, wrangle more resources to tackle the T’s workforce shortage, and hire independent experts to review the long-delayed procurement of new Red and Orange Line cars.
She also said she’ll take the blame for future T failures.
“I think as governor I’m ultimately responsible,” she said after taking a two-stop ride on the Red Line and getting a tour of the control center. She was joined at the control center by Secretary of Transportation Gina Fiandaca, who was sworn in Monday, Undersecretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt, and T interim General Manager Jeff Gonneville.
Healey has put together a team of experts from LTK Engineering and other consultants and lawyers to identify ways to expedite the delivery of new Red and Orange Line cars, said Healey spokesperson Karissa Hand. Chinese company CRRC is making the 404 new cars at its factory in Springfield, but has only delivered 90 cars so far, putting the project years behind schedule.
The new cars would replace some that were meant to retire decades ago.
“We have instructed this team to take a deep dive into these existing challenges and think through our long-term needs and how we prioritize and make good on the expediting of the delivery of cars,” she said. “We are already underway on this effort since we became aware of it just a couple of weeks ago.”
Meeting minutes between CRRC and the MBTA obtained by the Globe show at times consultants from three firms have been working on the project. Hand said the existing consultants are reviewing production at the Springfield factory, while the new group is looking at “accelerating the delivery of cars and improving safety.”
During Thursday’s event, Healey did not provide the T’s control center staff the information in which they are perhaps most interested: who will be their next boss? Nor did she say when subway and bus service will improve — information T riders have been demanding.
Nearly one month after Healey was sworn in, Gonneville, appointed by former governor Charlie Baker, is still at the helm, and Healey did not give any new information about the search Thursday.
“I think we’ve moved really quickly, as expeditiously as possible, also as early as possible,” she said. “We hope to have information on that real soon.”
Healey’s visit to the operations control center comes as T service across the region continues to deteriorate. Subway service cuts the agency made in June amid a shortage of dispatchers at the OCC are still in place, and the MBTA is often not meeting that reduced schedule. Bus service, which was slashed repeatedly last year, is worsening as the agency’s efforts to hire and retain bus drivers have failed.
MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said the T currently has 26 full time dispatchers and needs six more to be fully staffed. Even though the T has made progress on hiring dispatchers, it is now short on operators.
“Restoring heavy and light rail service levels is largely dependent on the availability of motor persons to operate the trains,” Pesaturo said in an e-mail.
Some who can afford to avoid the T are opting for car travel instead, and those who have no other option are spending more time waiting in the cold for their train or bus.
Healey said her administration understands the frustration. She said her upcoming budget proposal will include more money for hiring at the T.
“We know the challenges it presents in terms of your ability to get to work, to get to doctor’s appointments, just to live your lives,” she said. “Our commitment is to working real hard to deliver a public transit system that is safe and reliable.”
Safe and reliable transit is key to getting people to ditch their cars, Healey said, and meet the state’s climate goals.
Healey, whose Cambridge apartment overlooks the Red Line near Porter Square, has been commuting to the State House by car.
Hand said Healey travels all around the state on a “near-daily basis” with a protection team and often takes meetings from the car.
Before arriving at the operations control center, Healey took a two-stop ride on the T from Park Street Station to South Station at around 12:45 p.m. with Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll and Gonneville. There were fewer than 10 people waiting on the platform and even fewer in the Red Line car. Aside from a brief wait at the platform so the train could adjust its schedule, the ride was uneventful.
Asked when she last rode the T, Healey said “a little while back.” Driscoll said she has been using the commuter rail about once per week as lieutenant governor.
Healey and Driscoll spoke to two passengers who said they were visiting Boston for the day from Franklin. One said she uses the commuter rail regularly because she’s able to get to the city in about half the time compared to a car trip. The other said she was learning how to take the train and planned to use it to come to Boston for doctor’s appointments.
“That’s the kind of service we want to be able to deliver,” Healey later said.
Another change Healey is aiming for is making the MBTA more transparent, she said. She cited the T’s work on creating a public-facing slow zone report and said next month the T will have a public tracker on its website of progress to comply with safety directives issued last year by the Federal Transit Administration.
Healey pledged not to “sugarcoat anything.”
“We are committed to getting this information out to you faster and with more clarity,” she said. “This is about rebuilding the public’s confidence and trust in the transit system.”