BOSTON, DEC. 17, 2012…..On her first day on the job, ahead of the crush of rush hour, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott held court on a subway platform Monday, heralding the arrival of new countdown clocks, and forecasting the transportation financing debate set to begin in January.
“I’m typically a start-up, fix-it, turnaround, transition manager. My typical lifespan at organizations is about a five-year period of time,” Scott told the News Service. She said, “I’m not trying to suggest that a change manager is a better manager than who is a maintenance manager, but you just need to know who you are, and that’s really the essence of who I am, is very much a change manager. I’m a high-impact player.”
Scott will be part of the Patrick administration’s effort next year to sell new transportation revenue options to the public, and she said that officials are already halfway there because the public already values public transit.
“I hear and see everyone focused on not whether or not we need to have it, but really a focus on how do we do it, how do we make it? Everybody is dealing in very different environments now where everything is seriously resource constrained,” Scott said.
Flanked by MBTA officials, including recent Acting GM Jonathan Davis, and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey, Scott held forth on the State Station Blue Line platform, greeting commuters and answering reporters’ questions, occasionally over the roar of the subway.
Following in the path of both Davey and Davis, Scott said she plans to be a regular MBTA rider as well as its chief executive. Public transit and easy access to downtown Boston are a key aspect of where Scott is thinking about living, said Scott before extolling her appreciation of bus networks.
“I like all the modes. I like busing though,” Scott said. “I really do love bus a lot because I call it the Rodney Dangerfield of transit, you know ‘don’t get no respect’ but carry so many passenger trips.”
A debate over transportation funding is likely to include discussion of whether the MBTA can afford to expand its service – through Somerville and Medford via a $1.3 billion Green Line Extension project, and a planned commuter rail extension that would bring train service to Fall River and New Bedford.
“Why wouldn't we consider postponing it or avoiding it until the folks who run the MBTA say they can restore it to solvency without extraordinary measures like tax increases,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) told the News Service last summer. He said Davey should make clear distinctions between "what is required versus what is desired."
Scott said addressing the MBTA’s maintenance and repair needs and expanding transit to more communities are both priorities. Davey has previously said that a range of financing options, including tax increases, are on the table.
“It’s very simple to say, ‘Of course, we need to fix it first, and insist on preservation.’ We have a major asset here. But at the same time we’re talking about offering economic prosperity and growth for a Commonwealth, for a region,” Scott said.
Davey said the addition of an Orange Line station at Assembly Square in Somerville is generating 1 million square feet of real estate investment there, and said both transit expansion projects would contribute to economic growth and jobs.
“Perhaps it’s a question of philosophy, but we believe – the administration believes – that we will achieve that goal that legislators of both parties want, which is job creation and economic development,” Davey said.
In her decades of experience in public transit, which includes work in New York City and most recently Atlanta, Scott said she has faced constant funding deficits.
Asked about her experience, Scott said she worked on a relatively inexpensive construction of roughly 22 miles of trolley tracks in Sacramento, Calif. “Sacramento holds the record for having put the least expensive light-rail system in operation, so that taught me a whole lot,” Scott said.
Scott is clearly looking forward to running a 100-year-old subway, and also to working within an administration that consolidated most transportation agencies through a 2009 transportation reform law.
“This is the first time that I’m having the opportunity to really work in a place where it seems to be a real commitment to have one unified department of transportation, so that we’re able to wind up doing strategic thinking, strategic actual very intentional program investment,” Scott said. “So you can see the work that’s taken place over the last couple of years in terms of streamlining, reducing costs.”
Part of that work includes the new countdown clocks, which went live at 24 stations Monday, and show how many minutes until the arrival of the next train. The clocks are now in place in many Red, Orange and Blue line stations with plans for them to be functional throughout those lines sometime next year. The Green Line does not have the train monitoring system necessary to install the clocks, an MBTA official said.
“For the person who’s out there using the service, not concerned about how y’all make it happen – this is going to be just a tremendous just basic customer amenity,” Scott said. She said the countdown clocks, now in 30 stations, had been installed at a cost of “a couple of hundreds of thousands of dollars versus what were estimates of as much as $3 million to $5 million,” and praised the “moxie” of MBTA staff to complete the project at a bargain.