Chris Dempsey, one of the key leaders behind a campaign to keep the 2024 Olympics out of Boston, has been named as the director of Transportation for Massachusetts, a prominent transportation advocacy coalition.
Dempsey, a Brookline native who takes the MBTA every day, said he grew up watching the Green Line rumble down the street from his window, and is eager to lobby the state to improve its transportation systems.
“To me, transportation is kind of a fundamental challenge for the Commonwealth,” he said. “It touches all parts of our economy and everyone’s lives in a lot of different ways.”
The Harvard Business School graduate has worked at Bain & Co., a Boston consulting firm, and the state’s Department of Transportation, but is best known for his work with the “No Boston Olympics” coalition that fought efforts to bring the Games to the city.
While civic leaders said the Olympics could compel Boston to improve its transportation system, Dempsey argued that the region could improve its infrastructure on its own terms. The sentiment behind No Boston Olympics prevailed, and Boston’s bid was withdrawn.
Most recently, Dempsey worked as a consultant with Masabi, which creates mobile ticketing apps for transit systems.
Transportation for Massachusetts represents a diverse range of groups, including the Boston Cyclists Union, the League of Women Voters, and the MBTA Advisory Board.
Dempsey will lead the influential coalition at a time when Governor Charlie Baker has made improvements to the MBTA a major priority. In an interview, Dempsey praised several of the administration’s efforts, including the transition of the Massachusetts Turnpike to open-road tolling and the MBTA’s recent decision to buy additional cars from the Chinese company already building new Red and Orange line subway cars.
“We’ve absolutely seen the system climb out of a low point, and I think you have to credit the fiscal control board and the general manager on that,” he said. “But I think everyone agrees that inside and out that there’s still more work to be done, and still improvements to be made.”
Under its previous permanent executive director, Kristina Egan, Transportation for Massachusetts was a big proponent of additional revenue for the transportation system and fought a successful ballot measure that rejected automatic increases to the gas tax. Josh Ostroff, who succeeded Egan on an interim basis, spoke often about the need for greater investment.
It remains to be seen whether Dempsey will be as vocal about the need for more public investment, particularly in regard to a “millionaires’ tax” that could come before voters in 2018.
Dempsey said it was fair to say that spending more on public transportation should be part of the conversation, but that it “goes hand in hand with continued reform and continuing to make things more efficient.”
He said he’s eager to help the state prepare for big changes in transportation, such as self-driving cars or partnerships with ride-hailing firms such as Uber. At the state’s Department of Transportation, he was part of a team that helped launch an initiative to make transportation data public. Dempsey will begin his new role on Feb. 6.Nicole Dungca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.