Busy MBTA control board on a brief respite
Since first convening two years ago this month, the Fiscal and Management Control Board, which oversees the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, has met in public at a breakneck pace, often getting together for hours at a time each week to discuss ongoing efforts to reform the agency.
So for T watchers, the board room over at the State Transportation Building may feel a little underutilized this month. The control board is taking a breather to accommodate summer vacations of its members, and is going about a month without a meeting before resuming July 31.
Not only does that mark a departure from the board’s typical pace, it also apparently conflicts with the state law that established the board. The law said the board “shall meet as regularly as necessary to ensure the stability of authority operations and finances but not less than three times per month.”
However, officials defended the board, citing not just vacations, but busy work schedules for the five unpaid board members.
T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the board “has been described by Governor Charlie Baker as the hardest-working volunteers in state government, and a reduced meeting schedule in the summer will not disrupt the significant progress being made at the MBTA.”
The board, he added, “has consistently exceeded the statutory requirement to meet three times per month, having convened 99 times in its first two years of operation.”
Joseph Aiello, the board’s chairman, said its members anticipated a reduced summer schedule, and held between four and five meetings a month throughout the spring.
Additionally, he said, the midsummer lull allows for a transition period, after former board member Steve Poftak took over as interim general manager of the T at the start of the month. Brian Shortsleeve, who had been interim general manager, is taking Poftak’s position on the board.
“We’re driven by two things: What is the business of the organization? And what do they have that needs board attention?” Aiello said. “We had additional meetings this spring and really fast-tracked a lot of things, made sure we were dealing with them.”
Last summer the control board faced a similar vacation schedule, meeting just twice in August. At the time, the T notified the Legislature in a letter that the board “takes its responsibilities very seriously.” Aiello said the T will submit a similar letter for this summer’s lighter schedule.
Big plans for Union Square
But the neighborhood’s roadways will see change in the more immediate future. Webster Avenue and Prospect Street, one-way streets that together handle traffic in and out of Central, Kendall, and Inman Square in Cambridge, will each be converted to two-way streets at the end of July.
Brad Rawson, Somerville’s transportation director, said the existing set-up hampers both drivers and pedestrians in Union Square, which is already burgeoning ahead of development with popular restaurants and public events. The change should thin traffic in the center of the neighborhood, because drivers will now have the option to go directly toward Cambridge without driving through the square.
“They get pumped through the heart of the square, polluting the air, undermining the sense of place,” Rawson said. “Congestion’s not the only thing. Two-way streets have slower travel speeds than one-way streets. There’s a safety imperative here as well.”
History tour comes with T ride
The MBTA is America’s oldest subway system, and Tim Murphy wants his passengers to know about it.
Murphy, a Green Line operator and history buff, has built a niche by using his trolley’s public address system to offer MBTA and Boston history to riders. He announces his trolley’s arrival into Boylston, for example, by highlighting it as the nation’s oldest subway station, “120 years old this year.” And as the D branch trolley comes above ground, he gets a bit wonky.
“When the first section of what is now the Riverside line opened up, it opened up as the first branch of the Boston and Worcester railway,” he might say, referring to the predecessor of the Boston and Albany Railroad. “That makes our next stop, Brookline Village, 170 years old this year.”
It seems some riders have gotten a kick out of Murphy’s guided tours. Most tweets about the MBTA are typically focused on service announcements and customer complaints, but occasionally, riders chime in to praise a Green Line conductor offering “fun facts” and a “historical tour” through the city.
“The MBTA doesn’t promote the history much on its own, for whatever reason,” Murphy said. “That always perplexed me, so I started doing the announcements.”
Murphy, 38, has worked for the T for four years. He’s always been interested in history, he said, and he began devouring Boston transit history shortly before he began working for the agency. He said he buried himself in books and research partially as a post-traumatic stress coping mechanism, after being on Boylston Street during the 2013 Marathon bombing.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article inaccurately described the Riverside line’s history.