MBTA needs independent safety management agency, former US transportation Sec. says

A former U.S. transportation secretary who previously looked into issues at the T said on Tuesday that Massachusetts lawmakers should transfer state safety control of the MBTA from the Department of Public Utilities to another agency and create an independent safety management organization.

Ray LaHood, a member of an independent panel that in 2019 raised many of the same alarming trends at the MBTA that the Federal Transit Administration did this summer, told members of the Transportation Committee that he thought the Legislature should put a high priority on removing the DPU from its current position as the designated T state safety oversight body.

“If you don’t do anything else, you need to do that. To me, that’s very important,”LaHood, a former Republican congressman who worked as Obama’s transportation secretary,

MBTA needs independent safety management agency, former US transportation Sec. says

said. “The orientation of the SSO [State Safety Oversight] needs to be proactive, not reactive. The work needs to be transparent to the public. You have to have transparency. You just simply do.”

Federal investigators criticized the MBTA for ongoing issues and demanded several adjustments, but they also criticized the DPU for not carrying out its supervisory duties. Since then, DPU officials have said that they are having trouble luring new professionals to increase their work on transit safety.

LaHood cited his own experience as the chair of a board established by Columbia Gas parent company NiSource to review its safety management in the wake of the 2019 Merrimack Valley natural gas explosions as justification for his suggestion that lawmakers establish another wholly independent “safety management agency” with staff paid well enough to attract and retain top talent.

“You need outside eyes that pay attention every day,” LaHood said. 

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