In response to pressure from Markey, MBTA’s Steve Poftak commits to release full accounting of outstanding Orange Line repairs and previously undisclosed trip time data 

Watch the hearing HERE.

Boston (October 14, 2022) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senate sponsor of the fare-free transit Freedom to Move Act and a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, today joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Policy, at a Boston field hearing entitled: “Economic Impacts of Inadequate Transit Maintenance and Oversight: Examining Management Failures at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities.” The hearing examined the MBTA’s failure to keep passengers safe and provide reliable service, and the urgent need to increase transparency and accountability at the MBTA and the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), as well as the benefits of electrification as a long-term solution to improve the reliability and safety of public transit, promote economic development and social justice, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

In response to pressure from Senator Markey during the hearing, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak agreed to release previously undisclosed data on average trip times to the public, as well as a full list of repairs that still need to be completed in order to make the Orange Line safe and bring it back up to full speed. The Federal Transit Administration laid out in its August report a set of action items for MBTA and DPU to implement, many of which have not yet been completed.

“It is shameful that the first public transportation system in our country has been put last, and has lost the faith of the people of Massachusetts,” said Senator Markey at today’s hearing. “The recent Orange Line shutdown only confirms that the MBTA is failing to transparently communicate with its riders. But a better T is possible. When we lower the barriers to entry and make public transit accessible, reliable and affordable people will use it. Increased ridership gets cars off roads, reducing traffic and carbon emissions that pollute our air and warm our planet. I hope this hearing today is a first step toward making the T a vibrant, prosperous transit system worthy of our Commonwealth and its people.”

“The people of Massachusetts need a safe system, but they also need a transit system that works—a system that is reliable, accessible, frequent, dependable, clean, and that gets you where you need to go without crazy delays,” said Senator Warren. “We need to hear firsthand from them about how the MBTA got into this mess, and how DPU allowed it to happen – and find out what they are doing to clean it up and get it back on track. That’s why I invited them to testify before this subcommittee: so the public can hold the MBTA and DPU to account.”

Senators Markey and Warren recently worked to secure $580 million in federal funding for the MBTA to improve service and ensure the MBTA remains a reliable and accessible transit option for its riders. Additionally, Senator Markey and members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation have supported several successful federal grant applications from the MBTA and other local transit agencies that amount to over $100 million. These federal dollars will ensure the MBTA can meet its clean energy and electrification goals while expanding reliable service.

Senator Markey’s opening remarks as prepared:

Thank you, I’m glad to be here with you today. My deep thanks to my colleague, Senator Warren, for chairing this hearing and for convening us all today. I’m also grateful to Administrator Fernandez, Mayor Wu, and Jarred Johnson, for being generous with their time here today and for all that they do to push for transit justice, here in Boston and across the United States. Finally, my thanks to General Manager Poftak and Chairmen Nelson for their willingness to come before us.

There are two stories we must tell today. 

The first is the story of how the MBTA came to a screeching halt, arriving at this entirely preventable point, where deep service cuts and wholesale shutdowns of subway lines are deemed necessary to get the T back on track. I believe we need to understand the missteps and negligence that brought us to this moment of crisis, so that we never find ourselves back here again.

The second story pertains to how we move forward, how we build a brighter future for the MBTA. Greater Boston needs a public transit system that is truly a public good and effectively serves the needs of the people of the Commonwealth. While this current crisis never should have occurred, it has presented the chance for a conversation about how we build a transit system that is safe, sustainable, accessible, reliable, and free. With the proper care and decision-making, we can turn the T from a punchline into a model for our shared transit future.

I’m hopeful we can get there, but I want to make it clear: I am angry.

It is shameful that the first public transportation system in our country has been put last, and has lost the faith of the people of Massachusetts. In the last year alone, we’ve witnessed several crashes, derailments, and escalator malfunctions, seen passengers jumping from windows of flaming Orange Line trains, and experienced the unconscionable death of a passenger on the Red Line. 

As Sen. Warren just explained, the Federal Transit Administration’s report on the MBTA is damning, painting a picture of an organization that is woefully understaffed, lacking in basic communication and training protocols, and more focused on delivering capital projects on time than on fundamental operations and maintenance. All of this has stretched the T to a breaking point where safety and reliability are far from guaranteed.

The problems at the T did not happen overnight but have festered for decades. Like mold creeping between the baseboards of a home, poor management and disinvestment have eaten away at the foundation of our vaunted public transit system. Where the T once stood as a national model for reliable public transportation, today it serves as a warning sign for what happens when officials take their eye off the ball.

And too often, when problems arose, officials hid the ball altogether, leaving the public in the dark about the true state of the T.

Unfortunately, amidst this crisis, the T’s playbook hasn’t changed. During the recent Orange Line shutdown, the MBTA promised that the track work would allow the trains to run faster. Now, we are seeing that this hasn’t been true.

More transparent communication also means acknowledging that far too often, the burden of the T’s failures has fallen on riders, especially the Black, brown, disabled, and lower-income individuals who disproportionately use the T. 

I was a commuter student, who was able to attend college by living at home in Malden and taking the Orange Line and the bus out to Boston College. I know how public transit opens doors of opportunity to people who may not have the privilege to own and drive a car or live close to their school or workplace. It is people without resources and time to spare who are experiencing the worst impacts of the T’s crisis. That is inexcusable.

As we collectively rebuild and modernize this essential public utility, riders cannot be asked to shoulder the burden. Digging out of this hole will need the concerted effort of everyone from MBTA officials to community leaders to federal, state, and local policymakers. It will require the MBTA to improve its safety and communication practices, and the Department of Public Utilities to conduct robust, independent, and transparent safety oversight of the MBTA.

In Congress, Senator Warren and I will keep fighting for bold federal investments in public transit, on top of the $580 million in federal funding that has gone to the MBTA this year. As Massachusetts’ Senators, we have a vested interest in ensuring those federal dollars are spent well.

A better T is possible, especially in a state as abundant in resources and brainpower as Massachusetts. In order for us to fight for a better future, we have to know what it will look like. So today, we will spend some time identifying and illustrating a picture of the future with public transit as a public good.

We know that when you lower the barriers to entry and make public transit accessible and reliable – when you make it free – people will use it. Increased ridership gets cars off roads, which reduces traffic and carbon emissions that pollute our air and warm our planet. Expanding service also creates good-paying jobs – jobs for union workers who will revitalize our aging transit infrastructure and operate the buses, trains, and ferries that will connect communities, stimulate the regional economy, and get our residents where they need to go. So as we interrogate and investigate the T today, we can also imagine that brighter future, a world where the T puts “public” back in “public transit.”

But you can’t chart a new path without knowing where you are now—and as any rider of the T could tell you, the MBTA has a long way to go.

Greater Boston’s identity is inseparable from the T. It is the lifeblood of the metro region, and for too long it has not been treated with the care it deserves. Let this hearing today be an honest and unsparing account of the T’s neglect, as well as a first step toward making the T a vibrant, prosperous transit system worthy of our Commonwealth and its people. Thank you.