After a slower-than-expected start, Governor Maura Healey has in short order shaken up the senior ranks of the beleaguered Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The governor’s latest move came on Monday with the hiring of Patrick Lavin, a seasoned transportation executive, to the new post of MassDOT chief safety officer.
Lavin is a consultant who worked on a scathing 2019 report about the MBTA’s safety procedures. He also served as chief safety officer for the transit system in Washington, D.C., and as a safety director for New York City Transit.
Lavin, 58, will report to T general manager Phillip Eng, who took the helm of the MBTA earlier this month, and Secretary of Transportation Gina Fiandaca. MBTA chief safety officer Ron Ester will report to Lavin, Healey spokesperson Karissa Hand said.
In a statement, Healey said the MassDOT position was created to improve rider and worker safety by ensuring coordination “across all modes of transportation.” When she pitched the idea of a safety chief as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate last year, Healey said whoever she hired would also conduct a “full safety review” of the state’s rail and bus operations, as well as road and bridges.
Healey said Monday that Lavin will have wide sway over what that process looks like.
“He is going to be empowered to do whatever it takes to make our T safe. That’s his job,” Healey told reporters at the State House. “He’s gotta get here, and I will work with him on whatever he thinks in his best judgment will work in terms of a safety assessment. I’m obviously committed to doing whatever it takes.”
Lavin, who will receive a base salary of $325,000 a year, starts May 8, according to Healey’s office.
The announcement follows the news on Friday that Healey replaced three members of the MBTA’s board of directors with her own appointments. Along with Fiandaca, Healey’s picks now hold the majority of the seats on the seven-member board.
Healey initially said she intended to hire a chief safety officer within 60 days of taking office, though the appointment — similar to Eng’s — dragged well beyond that timeline.
Meanwhile, criticism of the MBTA’s safety record by regulators and riders only increased.
Last week federal transportation regulators sounded alarm bells once again over troubling safety incidents, including one that seriously injured a worker. The Federal Transit Administration ordered the T to immediately improve training and safety procedures for workers on its subway tracks.
“[The] FTA finds that a combination of unsafe conditions and practices exist such that there is a substantial risk of death or personal injury,” Joe DeLorenzo, an associate administrator and chief safety officer with the FTA, said in a letter to Eng.
The warning came less than a year after the FTA found that the agency’s focus on long-term projects short-changed day-to-day operations and safety, creating widespread problems.
Riders have endured drastic service cuts and a long series of serious safety incidents over the last 18 months, including a falling ceiling panel that nearly struck a commuter last month. The new general manager’s first day earlier this month coincided with the one-year anniversary of the death of Robinson Lalin, a 39-year-old who was dragged by a Red Line train at Broadway Station. Lalin’s death, as well as a number of other safety incidents, spurred the FTA’s safety inspection of the agency last year.
Lavin is intimately familiar with the T’s failings.
He has worked as a consultant for a safety and operations consulting firm since 2019, where he has performed safety assessments and developed investigation procedures for transit agencies that must address the federal government’s safety advisories and directives.
In 2019, Lavin worked closely with three transportation experts hired by the MBTA’s previous oversight board, the Fiscal and Management Control Board, to audit safety at the T after several derailments.
Former NYC Transit president Carmen Bianco, one of the three experts hired, said Lavin was in charge of organizing reviews with T management, field inspections, focus groups, and summarizing the panel’s findings. The panel found the T lacked a culture of safety and provided 61 safety recommendations, including that the T identify the resources it needed to operate safely, manage preventative maintenance, and support long-term projects.
The public can expect to see “immediate results” with Lavin’s leadership, Bianco said.
“I would hands down tell you that they landed probably the best person in the US,” said Bianco. “It’s an amazing catch for them; I just hope they listen to him.”
Joe Aiello, who was the chair of the control board, said Lavin “left no stone unturned.”
“He will be impactful immediately,” said Aiello. “He understands all the way from the technical elements of safety, to processes and procedures, budget and finance, management accountability, and culture creation.”
Brian Kane, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, said that while Lavin’s purview technically extends across MassDOT and its sprawling bureaucracy overseeing the Registry of Motor Vehicles and other agencies, the MBTA should take priority.
“We certainly hope he does not spend too much of his time working on highway projects and instead focuses on the T,” Kane said.
When Lavin was in Washington, he focused on employee safety by implementing a system that warns train operators employees are present on the right of way, the governor’s office said. He also worked on an evaluation to better protect passengers with disabilities during boarding and installed video monitors to improve the view for train operators at entrances.
In New York, he investigated bus and train collisions and derailments, including those with serious injuries and deaths, and led teams to inspect and repair train control signals. According to Healey’s office, he also worked to investigate bus fires and mechanical failures and led a team to address derailments and adopt improvements to reduce serious injuries to employees while installing rails.
“I am looking forward to working collaboratively with the MassDOT team, agency personnel, local stakeholders, and our federal partners to improve safety at the T and at a broader level across the state,” Lavin said in a statement.
Healey said Lavin will move to Massachusetts, adding he will be “very much on the job,” including visiting parts of the MBTA system. The Globe reported over the weekend that the T’s top safety manager, Ester, lives just part of the time in Massachusetts.
“I expect [Lavin] to be a person who is not just going to be behind a desk in the office. He’s going to be out, he’s going to be on site and working directly with workers,” she said. “That’s what I’m requiring.”
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