MBTA Board Updates: Meet Your New MBTA Board

Worcester Union Station
Worcester Union Station, the city's link to the MBTA regional rail network and Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited trains. On Wednesday, the MBTA board approved a major construction project that will add a new boarding platform and allow more regional MBTA trains to serve Worcester.

The new, 7-member MBTA board of directors met virtually for the first time on Wednesday morning with a relatively light agenda that was mostly devoted to introductions and administrative business.

In introductory remarks, board chair Betsy Taylor pledged to continue the “outstanding work” of the board’s predecessor, the Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB).

“The purpose of governance is to ensure there is transparent decision making and the interests of all stakeholders are taken into account… We intend to lead the T in ways that are inclusive, effective, efficient, and accountable,” said Taylor.

Following introductions, the board heard public comments, many of which focused on the previous board’s directive to establish a low-income fare program.

Mike Vartabedian, Assistant Directing Business Representative of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, and co-chair of the Public Transit Public Good Coalition, told the board that “putting a low-income fare in place for fiscal year 2022 would help the people in these communities that have been hit the hardest and suffered the greatest losses during this deadly pandemic.”

Following public comment, the new board adopted bylaws and established charters and membership for three committees, which are expected to meet at least once per quarter.

An Audit and Finance committee, to be chaired by Chair Betsy Taylor, will focus on budgets, the issuance of debt, the capital investment plan, and other financial matters.

A Committee on Safety, Health, and the Environment, to be chaired by Director Thomas “Scott” Darling, , an independent consultant and former Chief of Safety, Security, & Control Center Operations for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), will monitor safety in the transit system and the agency’s environmental goals.

There was no public discussion regarding the charter of a third committee, the Committee on Planning, Workforce Development and Compensation, but it will be chaired by Director Thomas Koch. Board members also selected Director Koch to be the board’s Vice Chair.

General Manager Steve Poftak then offered a quick update on ridership, which continues to make slow gains towards the transit system’s pre-pandemic volumes, and new commuter rail fare products that are intended to be a more attractive alternative to monthly passes for commuters who are still working from home several days per week.

Poftak also briefly discussed the T’s fare-free Route 28 pilot program.

“We’ve seen a good response,” he told board members. “Ridership (on the 28) is about 92 percent of pre-Covid levels.”

Finally, the board approved three major construction contracts.

The board voted to approve two projects that will provide major upgrades to the T’s regional rail stations in Winchester, where deteriorating access ramps forced the T to shut down the town’s downtown station in August, and in Worcester, where the T will add a new high-level platform that will allow passenger access to two trains at a time. Currently, Worcester Union Station only has platform access on one track, which limits the station’s capacity and constrains train schedules on the Worcester line.

A third $22 million project will replace the Dorchester Avenue bridge over the MBTA’s Red and Old Colony rail lines.

The meeting wrapped up in under two hours – significantly shorter than most meetings of the Fiscal and Management Control Board.

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