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Elections and Politics

Healey Admin. Recruits Transit Justice Leader to Lead MBTA’s Safety Oversight Agency

Headshot of CLF attorney Staci Rubin wearing a black blazer.

Staci Rubin. Photo courtesy of the Conservation Law Foundation.

Governor Maura Healey has recruited Staci Rubin, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation who has long focused on issues of transit and environmental justice, to be one of three commissioners who will lead the state's Department of Public Utilities.

Rubin will join Jamie Van Nostrand, currently a law professor at the West Virginia University College of Law, and Cecile Fraser, another attorney who has been serving as a commissioner since 2017, on the three-person DPU Commission.

While at CLF, Rubin was involved in a number of advocacy efforts to make the MBTA work better for its lower-income riders. She was involved in efforts to introduce a new low-income fare, to oppose service cuts that were proposed during the pandemic, and to decriminalize fare evasion.

In 2019, Rubin and the CLF filed an "intent to sue" memorandum against MassDOT over its decision to let single-occupant vehicles into a transit and carpool lane on Interstate 93 north of Boston. A year later, during the pandemic, MassDOT reversed that decision and agreed in a settlement with CLF to add additional carpool lanes and bus lanes on several other highways in the region – including a highly successful new bus-only lane on the Tobin Bridge.

Rubin joins the DPU at a time when the agency is facing increasing pressure to wean electric power and methane gas utilities off fossil fuels in order to meet the state's climate goals.

But the agency is also responsible for regulating safety in the MBTA's subway system, which will need to run more reliably and attract more riders for the Commonwealth to cut pollution from transportation.

In a nearly-unprecedented "safety management inspection" from the Federal Transit Administration last year, federal inspectors excoriated the DPU's regulators for failing to perform their oversight responsibilities, and demanded that both the MBTA and DPU submit "corrective action plans" to address their deficiencies.

On February 3, the feds approved the DPU's corrective action plan, which included an updated strategy for the agency "to support field observations, audits, and inspections of MBTA’s rail transit system to identify safety deficiencies and require their immediate resolution."

Last week's short-notice announcement of systemwide slow zones on the entire MBTA rail network was an indirect result of a recent inspection from the DPU's reinvigorated safety oversight office.

According to a DPU spokesperson, the Department had only seven full-time employees focused on rail transit safety oversight in 2022. But in January, the agency added three new employees, including an additional Public Utilities Engineer, a new Compliance Officer, and a newly-created Director of Rail Transit Safety.

"DPU is actively working to hire additional engineers and compliance officers and has created a new Data Analyst position to help manage data and track trends in safety data," the spokesperson wrote to StreetsblogMASS. "DPU will continue to post positions, seek, and hire qualified candidates to build sufficient human resources to oversee safety at the MBTA."

Editor's note: the Conservation Law Foundation is the fiscal sponsor of StreetsblogMASS. That means that StreetsblogMASS pays CLF to administer the organization's payroll, employee benefits, and finances, but CLF does not have any role in governance or editorial decisions.

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