With riders at wits’ end, Beverly Scott quits as MBTA leader
Beverly A. Scott abruptly resigned as general manager of the MBTA on Wednesday, taking Governor Charlie Baker’s administration by surprise just hours after she received a unanimous vote of gratitude and confidence from the MassDOT board.
As the T groaned haltingly back to life after a series of snowstorms that crippled the transit system and made her both a scapegoat and a star, Scott announced her resignation in a letter to the board.
She gave little indication of her reasoning. She said she would work until April 11 to aid in a smooth transition, and thanked the board for its support.
Swarmed by reporters as she made her way out of her office at the transportation building shortly after 7:10 p.m., Scott answered only one question: whether she had been forced to give up.
“I never give up anything,” she said.
Baker said he first heard of Scott’s decision when the news broke Wednesday afternoon. He said he has no one in mind to fill Scott’s position.
On Wednesday night, Baker refused to speculate on Scott’s motives for resigning — “These kinds of decisions are personal” — but said he was looking forward to meeting her on Thursday. The two have never met in person, but Baker’s transportation secretary had been in touch by phone in recent days.
Though Scott will stay on through the current crisis, her impending departure leaves the MBTA, which includes the nation’s oldest subway and a network of buses, ferries, and commuter rail lines, without a long-term leader.
MBTA train service has been suspended for more than 24 hours twice in the last two weeks, unable to function after a series of epic snowstorms. Baker expressed his dissatisfaction earlier this week, but later clarified that his frustration was not with Scott.
Scott, through an MBTA spokesman, did not respond to an interview request.
That left others to try to explain her departure from the $220,000 a year job she started in December 2012.
“I suspect that she didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” said Robert Prince Jr., who led the T from 1997 to 2001 and considers Scott a friend. “And if she does, it’s another train coming at her.”
For Scott, 63, known to most as “Bev,” the silence followed a fiery performance at a news conference on Tuesday, where she suggested that “God Junior” would have been hard pressed to keep the T’s old railcars running in so much snow.
It was vintage Bev.
Scott often peppers her public and private conversations with homespun aphorisms.
She doles out hugs and shout-outs liberally, and has a habit of wandering away from live microphones when she really gets going.
“Oh Lord Jesus,” she muttered Tuesday as a reporter reminded her that the MBTA is billions of dollars in debt.
“The general manager has a way of speaking that we don’t hear in New England very often,” Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said Tuesday, a day before Scott resigned. “Maybe it’s good that we have someone who says it like it is.”
Behind the bluster, those who know and work with Scott say, is a mastery of the material forged over 40 years of work in transit systems all over the country.
Scott used her allotted time at Wednesday’s MassDOT meeting to show pictures of MBTA crews working to free frozen rail switches and clear snowbound tracks.
“She was experienced and she was caring,” said Liz Levin, a former MBTA board member who chaired the committee that recommended Scott and another finalist.
Scott, said to be then-Governor Deval Patrick’s choice for the job, left Atlanta to become general manager of the MBTA.
Her contract in Atlanta was set to expire, and officials here learned only later that a business psychologist had been paid $144,000 to help Scott and her leadership team improve their management style.
But here, Levin and others said, Scott’s leadership was evident in the long-term improvements that got rolling at last. The Green Line extension is finally funded.
Fairmount Line improvements are moving forward. Long-sought late night service started last March in a one-year pilot project that was recently extended.
“What happened the last few weeks does not have much to do with the general manager,” said Draisen, whose organization works with the MBTA on transit issues. “I think she’s argued accurately that the T has been woefully underfunded for a long time.”
In the days before her resignation, Scott offered explanations — not excuses, she said — for the failings.
Aging cars and other equipment could never have been expected to perform in the face of such extreme snow.
“If you had a clunker from 1969 in your driveway, you wouldn’t be taking it for a spin today,” said Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation, who was among those defending Scott at Wednesday’s MassDOT meeting.
Within hours Wednesday, the love-fest had become a wake.
“The beast of the transportation system eats a lot of good people,” Levin said. “I think she’s going to be hard to replace.”
That beast chugged groggily back to life on Wednesday after being totally offline on Tuesday, but wait times between trains were twice as long as usual, and many passengers endured terrible commutes.
They waited on crowded Red and Orange line platforms and in shuttle lines snaking through snowy parking lots.
The tracks, third rail, and switches on the Braintree branch of the Red Line were still frozen, and rail service will remain suspended through Sunday, a spokesman said.
This forced officials to run shuttle buses to the JFK/UMass Station. But the shuttles were often already full when they arrived at some stations, leaving commuters to wait for hours in freezing temperatures, only to realize each time a shuttle arrived that there was no room.
Several riders approached Wednesday said they didn’t blame Scott for their frustrating commutes, but others said her resignation made sense.
“For political reasons this makes sense. Everyone needs someone to blame,” said Boston University student Yasmin Gentry, who was waiting for a Green Line trolley at Park Street Station. “Part of her job is taking responsibility.’’
Scott said as much on the day before her resignation.
“I got a broad back. Anything that has happened, it’s me,” Scott told reporters Tuesday. “I have been through hurricanes, I’ve been through World Trade Center bombings, tornadoes coming, 30 inches, 36 inches and all that, so this ain’t this woman’s first rodeo.”
Scott declined to directly address comments from Baker, who called the MBTA’s performance unacceptable. Speaking to reporters before Scott’s resignation, new state transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said Baker had not been maligning Scott’s performance when he expressed his frustration.
“What the governor said was he was disappointed in the MBTA’s performance, not in Dr. Scott and not in the T,” she said. Baker said the same Wednesday night.
But others saw Baker’s comments earlier in the week as an attempt to scapegoat Scott for infrastructure problems that pre-dated her arrival by decades. Public officials and private citizens lined up at Wednesday’s MassDOT meeting to vouch for Scott, who sat front and center, sipping an extra large coffee and pumping her fist in gratitude.
“It’s going to be tough for the Commonwealth,” said Prince, whose friendship with Scott dates to her days as the head of Rhode Island’s transit system. They shared many dinners together, he said, prepared by Scott’s late husband, a chef. “They’ve lost a rather great leader. That’s going to be hard to fill.”
During her passionate, defiant, and at times rambling news conference on Tuesday, Scott pointed out that there was little anyone could do to make trains that are practically antiques run on snowpacked rails and frozen switches.
“Take Bev out the picture,” Scott said more than once.
On Wednesday, she did just that.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the previous communications between Baker and Scott. Baker’s transportation secretary had been in touch by phone with Scott in recent days.