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Massachusetts Gov.-Elect Sees Problems With Transit Worker Shortage

After taking a tour of the MBTA’s Repair Facility in Everett, Mass., Maura Healey reinforced the need for future investment, including in vocational schools and programs to create a talent pipeline.

Governor-elect Maura Healey tours the MBTA's Main Repair Facility
Everett, MA : Governor-elect Maura Healey tours the MBTA's Main Repair Facility on Wednesday, December 21, 2022 in Everett, MA.
(Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
(TNS) — A workforce shortage at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is making it nearly impossible for employees to keep up with necessary repairs and maintenance for the T’s aging fleet of trains and buses, Gov.-Elect Maura Healey said.

Healey said she got a “firsthand” look at the T’s staffing challenges, which were highlighted as a major deficiency in the feds’ safety management inspection report, during a tour she and Lt. Gov.-Elect Kim Driscoll took at the MBTA’s Main Repair Facility in Everett on Wednesday.

“This place is bustling this morning, but there aren’t enough workers for a second or third shift,” Healey told reporters. “That’s a problem. People are doing tremendous things here, but simply don’t have the numbers to support the work that they’re doing. And I was really struck by that.”

Healey said she’s on the same page with workers and MBTA leadership, who spoke to her about the need for growth in vocational schools and programs, which would be aimed at creating a talent pipeline for these maintenance and repair jobs.

Driscoll and Healey both also spoke to the need for additional “investment” to keep the T’s aging buses and trains rolling.

“Part of it is just supply procurement and the fact that these guys are having to hustle to retrofit and to make good with what they have,” Healey said. “And you know, that’s about investment and long-term work.”

When asked, Healey wouldn’t commit to filing a bill in her first year to increase funding for MBTA operations but said those “critical” investments are part of the ongoing state budgeting process.

She said some state revenues are “specifically slated” to go toward transportation and infrastructure, possibly referring to funding from the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill or the just-passed millionaire’s tax.

Healey also addressed a potential restructuring of the MBTA, which state Rep. William Straus, who co-chairs the Joint Committee on Transportation, has discussed often.

Outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker said he was open to the idea of dissolving the MBTA, and absorbing it as a public transit division that would be part of MassDOT.

“I’m sure there are lots of ideas for how to do a bunch of different things,” Healey said. “But I think what’s important to us is we’re actually listening to folks. We’re talking with them. We’re understanding what the current structure is.

“And obviously, if things need to be done or changed to make everything better for the workforce or the entire operation, we’ll do that.”

Healey said a transportation safety chief will be an important hire, and plans to “actually focus” on MBTA operations — rather than a past tendency to prioritize capital projects over operations and maintenance, which the feds criticized in their report — and workforce.

“You can have all the governance structure that you want,” she said. “But if you don’t have the workforce, if you don’t have the operational teams, and more people joining these guys, we’re not going to get to where we need to be.”

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