By Richard Weir, Erin Smith
MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott jetted off at taxpayer expense nearly every month during her two-plus-year tenure -- sometimes several times a month -- to conferences and meetings around the country, even as the troubled transit system was collapsing around her, a Herald review shows.
A review of Scott's monthly expense reports provided by the MBTA as part of public records request shows she spent 106 days traveling out of state while at the helm of the T, taking 30 trips in 24 months.
During that time, Scott, who announced yesterday she's stepping down in April, racked up $56,753 in expenses on lodging, airplane tickets and dining tabs, including at least $1,132 on hotel laundry and dry-cleaning bills.
Scott often charged taxpayers for excess baggage fees, accruing $411 on three flights between Boston and Chicago and to Washington, D.C., in 2013 and $520 on an October flight to an American Public Transportation Association (APTA) conference in Houston.
She traveled out of state nearly every month of 2014 -- sometimes multiple times a month, records show. In September, for example, she spent nearly two weeks outside the state attending conferences in Washington, Detroit and Minneapolis. The next month, she headed to Houston and Washington.
The GM has traveled to, among other cities, San Diego, Montreal, New York, Denver, Portland, Oregon, and to Washington a total of eight times, including flying first class in January 2013 to a Rail-Volution conference.
While Scott was flying off to other cities, the MBTA was facing mechanical failures, chronically late trains, dirty cars and stations, driver safety issues and massive debt. The agency also cut services while hiking fares, and saw out-of-control spending and a 40 percent hike in employees scoring six-figure salaries. It all came to a head with a complete shutdown of an aging system that was ill-equipped to handle heavy snow and frigid temperatures.
Scott was reimbursed $9,170 right out of the gate when she started in December 2012, including an $8,000 Boston Park Plaza hotel tab, which included $698 for laundry expenses.
During Scott's tenure, the T's overall travel expenses have skyrocketed. Prior to her taking over the agency in December 2012, travel expenses for fiscal year 2010 were $900 but by fiscal year 2014 they shot up to nearly $18,000; and for the first five months of fiscal year 2015 they have already topped $16,000, according to online records.
Scott and other executives nearly maxed out their $18,000 travel budget last fiscal year, according to MBTA documents. That line item was increased to $23,000 for the current fiscal year, records show.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo defended the travel spending, telling the Herald, "Like her peers around the country, Dr. Scott sometimes travels to (APTA) conferences or other transit industry-related events to share information, learn from the experiences of other agencies, find out what has worked or not worked, and identify ways to improve and enhance public transportation."
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she and Gov. Charlie Baker never intended for Scott to be a "scapegoat" for the T's problems. But after yesterday's MassDOT board meeting, she said she wants to know the T's plans for "nursing these vehicles along" before they can be replaced by new subway cars in seven years.
"Dr. Scott mentioned today the Orange Line cars never had a mid-life overhaul. Why didn't that happen?" Pollack asked. "Why did people think we could take these vehicles and make them last another five to eight years, or was there a plan?"
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