Former U.S. Secretary Of Transportation: MBTA Safety Progress Has Derailed

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BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — A former transportation official from the Obama administration says progress on safety for Boston area transit was going smoothly, until the COVID-19 pandemic brought it to a screeching halt.

Former United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood praises the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and its General Manager, Steve Poftak for the direction the T was heading prior to the spring of 2020.

"I believe right up to the point of COVID, he [Poftak] was doing a good job. He was carrying out the recommendations, he was trying to implement the safety culture that I've talked about. COVID put an end to all of that. People weren't coming to work, they were trying to do this stuff on Zoom, which is impossible," LaHood said.

LaHood headed up an independent panel back in 2019, that found a number of problems with the MBTA that struck similar with the Federal Transit Administration's recent assessment of the services. Back on Beacon Hill on Tuesday, LaHood reiterated those concerns to state lawmakers, with a bleak opinion of progress they've made on transportation safety.

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LaHood referenced the upcoming governor's election, which he says would be an opportune time to regroup and start over when it comes to addressing safety on the T.

"The current system is not working— it's simply not. The FTA said that, we said it, and the people that are riding the trains have said it over and over again. If you want to start at ground zero, the timing is perfect for that right now politically because you're going to have new people in these chairs. If I was in your chair, I would think very seriously about doing that," LaHood said.

The former officials went on to say that T safety oversight should be shifted away from the Department of Public Utilities, emphasizing that transparency should be the most valuable characteristic of the MBTA. Moreover, he recommended state lawmakers create another independent "safety management agency," similar to the kind of committees he's worked on in the past, according to the State House News Service.

WBZ's Mike Macklin reports.

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