Sen. Warren calls for ‘new leadership’ at MBTA

Sen. Warren, shown speaking at a Dorchester event in July, says she wants to see "new leadership" at the MBTA. Bill Forry photo

US Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Wednesday “new leadership” is needed at the MBTA as the public transit agency readies a month-long shutdown of its Orange Line, with an overlapping closure of the Green Line.

“Riders are entitled to a safe, dependable, affordable ride. And that isn’t happening. And that’s pretty clearly an issue of leadership,” Warren told reporters after an unrelated event inside the Boston Teachers Union hall in Dorchester with Rep. Ayanna Pressley. “We need real leadership at the T, we need leadership in our entire transit authority and it’s time.”

Asked by reporters if she is calling for the removal of the general manager, Warren said, “Look, we obviously need new leadership at the T. The T has had a monumental failure not just in the past few weeks or even the past few months. This is year after year after year of failure to make the investments in infrastructure, failure to get the T up and operational.”

Steve Poftak, a Boston resident who frequently rides the T himself, has served as the MBTA’s permanent general manager since January 2019. He previously was the vice chair of the T’s oversight board, whose members have appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

When asked about Warren's comments, Mayor Michelle Wu, who also rides the MBTA and has run into Poftak on the Orange Line, said Thursday she had not yet spoken to the US senator. "I'm focused on making sure this Orange Line shutdown can go as smoothly as possible," Wu said after an unrelated City Hall press conference.

The mayor said she's working closely everyday with MBTA officials. Regarding the question of whether "new" leadership is needed, Wu noted that Massachusetts will have a new chief executive in the State House's corner office. "That would be a decision or a conversation for the new governor," she said.

Warren, who called herself “frustrated” about the state of the T, said she agreed with Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey’s proposal to make the entire system fare-free during the shutdowns, which are aimed at speedier repairs of tracks instead of making them during sporadic closures over several years.

“I think right now, if the T is going to shut down the Orange Line, shut down the Green Line for a period of time, then one way they can make it up to the riders who remain is make it free,” she said. “Show that you really care about people who still are there to try to support the T.”

Pressley said the shutdown is “devastating,” and comes as schools reopen. Boston Public Schools officials have said 23,000 students rely on the MBTA to get to school.

“It’s happening because of years of (mismanagement) and chronic underinvestment and deferred maintenance that created a scenario where riders have to choose between service and safety,” she said. “So we find ourselves in a situation that was completely avoidable. So at a minimum what we should be doing is having service be free for a month.”

A spokesperson for the MBTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the remarks.

This story was updated Thursday with Mayor Wu's comments.

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