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MBTA no place for ‘virtual’ managers

A transit system plagued by safety, reliability issues needs all hands on board.

A Green Line train arrives at the Blandford Street Station in Boston.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

There are some Boston workers who haven’t been showing up in the office lately — and they don’t even have unreliable subways to blame.

They’re the MBTA’s very own senior executives — most hired during the pandemic and until recently never told they were expected to live near the system they were helping to run.

Sure, working remotely became quite the thing during the pandemic; yes, even at the Boston Globe.

But there are some jobs that require more than a little hands-on activity — say, T safety or checking on the transit system’s extensive capital projects aimed at modernizing a creaky and antiquated network which has been limping along in recent years. Yes, those would be the same issues that were the subject of a scathing federal report last year.


And yet a Globe reporting team headed by Andrea Estes found that several senior managers, most in those critical divisions, lived more than 100 miles from the nearest T stop. The team caught up with one who maintains his voting status at his Chicago home.

MBTA riders waiting endlessly for the next Orange Line car to pull up can be rightly outraged at MBTA management for allowing so much absentee leadership.

T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency was reviewing its remote work policy and “balancing the needs of in-person work with remote work.”

There are some jobs that simply can’t be done remotely — or at least not done well. And how very disrespectful to those who do have to show up every day — to drive the buses, to fix the tracks that seem to be constantly in a state of disrepair, to maintain failing equipment — to have to report to some guy communicating via Zoom with a golf course clearly visible in the background.


The impact on morale alone surely can’t be overstated.

Among the worst offenders was James “Jay” Neider, who was fired last month by the Healey administration from his $275,000 a year job as head of the T’s modernization program — he of the Zoom call from the veranda of his Delaware home. He also has homes in Wisconsin and Hawaii. His chief of staff, who owns a home in Florida, his deputy, who lives in New Jersey, and the chief of capital programs strategy and innovations, with a home in New York, were put on notice to report more often from Boston.

How often is still unclear as the T’s new general manager, Phillip Eng, sorts through what its new policy should be.

“There is an importance about face-to-face discussions, meetings, not only internally, but for our staff to see that we’re present, as well with third parties doing work and the vendors and the manufacturers that we rely on,” Eng said.

Chief safety officer Ronald Ester Jr. (he of the Chicago voting address) reportedly missed his first senior leadership meeting with the new general manager.

Now Ester will report to newly named safety chief Patrick Lavin, whose appointment was announced Monday by Governor Maura Healey.

Healey does indeed seem determined to clean house at the deeply dysfunctional transit agency, starting with her naming three new board members last week.

The safety and reliability of the transit system that serves the capital city and more than half of the communities in Massachusetts is critical to the state’s economic wellbeing. It gets people to work and to school. It is a lifeline for many who can’t afford to hop an Uber every time they need to get to a doctor’s appointment. Those people who depend on it deserve better than they have been getting. They deserve a system run by people who care about it, and who know, say, where the Porter Square T stop is.


The MBTA cannot afford absentee managers or geographically divided loyalties. It needs people who are actually willing to hop on the Green Line now and then or grab the #39 bus just to see from the ground up how the system operates. Sometimes personnel is policy. And when it comes to fixing the T that’s as good a place to start as any.

Editor’s note: This editorial was based on reporting in a Globe news story that has been corrected. As a result of those corrections, a reference to the number of senior MBTA officials having primary residences at least 100 miles from an MBTA stop changed. We have removed that number from this version of the editorial. The original editorial also incorrectly stated where Dennis Lytton, an MBTA safety official, was when reached by reporters. He was in Boston.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.