Anyone else finding the whole brouhaha over Dan Grabauskas a little bit bewildering? Three T board members express … well, outrage is not too strong a term … over Grabauskas' handling, or lack thereof, of the two crash incidents and the NTSB report. The Patrick administration follows up (provokes? orchestrates? who knows?) with stinging words. Basically the rest of anyone who matters in government – the other four MBTA board members, Senate Prez, Speaker of the House, House Transport chair, and Senate Joint Committee on Transportation chair — all throw in with Grabauskas. CWUnbound's Gabrielle Gurley calls the administration's actions “amateurish” and a “debacle.”
Well OK then. I hear that. So here are my questions.
- I'm a relatively recent immigrant to Massachusetts. I wasn't around for the Great RMV Miracle that Grabauskas is apparently responsible for. Does it necessarily follow that if he did a good job at a different agency, then he must be doing a good job at the MBTA? How long does that halo last? Is it even a relevant question?
- How does one evaluate Grabauskas' tenure at the MBTA? We have on one hand:
- Reasonably successful Charlie Card rollout
- Website improvement
and on the other hand …
- Safety negligence, lack of a “culture of safety”
- Inability to implement technical safety fixes, a la NTSB recommendations
- continuous maintenance problems
- projects wayyyy over time/over budget
- increasing fares
- Wow, a lot of people making pretty good scratch …
- Of the problems the MBTA now faces, how many are due directly to the debt service, which is brought up every time something goes wrong?
- I keep hearing about the hidebound culture at the MBTA, and what a challenge Grabauskas has in changing it. But how much power does Graubauskas have to fix that? If very little, why? Don't legislators have the power to give him power? If they do, but haven't, why not?
- Of those legislative leaders who might refer to the debt service as a major problem that Grabauskas must heroically deal with, how many are actually doing anything to permanently fix it?
Essentially, what we're seeing is a classic example of the Big Dig Culture — no one really knows whom to blame when things go wrong. The three board members who criticized Grabauskas seemed to start a circular firing squad. Transport reform's reorganization of the T under the executive branch can't come soon enough. We need to know whom to hold accountable. Currently, if it's not the MBTA chief … who is?
And if he is doing a great job under difficult conditions, a.) where's the evidence, and b.) Why are we allowing such conditions to persist?