Starts & Stops

T board of directors livens up last session

Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. (left) and William A. Mitchell Jr., acting general manager, at the MBTA Board of Directors’ final meeting. Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. (left) and William A. Mitchell Jr., acting general manager, at the MBTA Board of Directors’ final meeting. (Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff)
By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / October 11, 2009

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The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s board of directors held its final meeting last week, ending a 45-year tradition of overseeing the nation’s fifth-busiest transit agency.

The meetings are usually serious, occasionally combative, and often agonizingly boring. But Thursday, board members got a bit punchy.

When Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. said a financing plan for expanding the commuter rail to Fall River and New Bedford would be finished in January, board member Grace Shepard, a stately grandmother from Sherborn, responded with some colorful skepticism.

“As long as there’s not too much LSD or something like that involved, I think it’s wonderful,’’ she said.

The project has been promised by politicians for years, possibly since the days when youths were using LSD and listening to Led Zeppelin in the cellar.

Both buses on Silver Line will connect

Ever wonder why the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has two bus routes called the Silver Line that do not connect with each other? Well, stop scratching your head.

On Tuesday, the T will extend the Washington Street Silver Line to South Station. You’ll still have to switch buses at South Station if you want to take the Silver Line bus that goes to Logan International Airport.

But previously, passengers in Roxbury and the South End who used the Silver Line bus could not get to South Station without taking the Red Line from Downtown Crossing or some other roundabout route. Some Washington Street buses will still go to Downtown Crossing.

Chief of operations and deputy are latest of MBTA’s departures

The departures keep coming at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

On Thursday, the agency’s chief of operations - the guy who keeps the trains and buses running - submitted his retirement papers.

Though Richard J. Leary made his retirement effective Nov. 1, it does not appear he holds much continuing interest in the job. He was a no-show at a board of directors meeting last week, even though he had been ordered by the board to deliver a crucial safety report. He has not returned calls from the Globe seeking an explanation.

The day Leary turned in his retirement papers, his hand-picked deputy, Kevin McGuire, submitted his retirement papers as well. And in August, the general manager, Daniel A. Grabauskas, was forced out with a $327,000 buyout.

The board of directors also dissolved following last week’s meeting, as part of a landmark transportation shake-up.

So who is running the T? There are no public nationwide searches underway to replace any of these leaders.

For now, it’s William A. Mitchell Jr., the acting general manager who had been the agency’s general counsel for the past 14 years. Mitchell does not know much about trains and buses. But the T still has individual managers in charge of subway, commuter rail, and bus operations. One of Leary’s deputies also remains on staff.

But there’s a lot to sort out over the next few weeks as the Patrick administration begins a landmark reorganization that also includes merging most of the state’s major road agencies.

Getting somebody to run the T will obviously be crucial, given the importance of public transit to millions of residents and to the economy as a whole.

Several transit advocates spoke out at last week’s meeting and lamented that Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr. was also leaving Nov. 1 because he met with them often to discuss their concerns about potential fare hikes and service reductions.

The next transportation secretary, Jeffrey Mullan, plans to pick two top leaders for the T over the next month or so - one to run day-to-day operations and a second person to oversee policy for all public transit. The policy person will also oversee regional bus systems and deal with freight rail coming in and out of the state.

Mullan has not given any hints on whom he will pick. Mitchell, who had been thought not to want the job, said Friday that he has been discussing the restructuring with Mullan. “I’m very comfortable back in general counsel, but if the governor and secretary feel they would like me in another slot, I’d certainly be willing to accept that,’’ he said.

No word on who else might be under consideration.