Notably lacking from Gov. Maura Healey’s three appointments to the Department of Public Utilities was a commissioner with transit security experience — a deficiency highlighted by state and federal lawmakers in previous MBTA oversight hearings.
Two observers mentioned the transfer to nominate commissioners centered on local weather and vitality quite than transportation indicators a bigger plan from Gov. Maura Healey to shift MBTA security oversight from the DPU to a brand new state company, pointing to laws that has already been filed for such a change.
But the Healey administration denied this on Wednesday, saying that the governor’s appointments are a part of her efforts to create a “21st-century DPU, which includes expanded, in-house expertise in transit safety.”
Healey’s EEA Secretary Rebecca Tepper appointed Jamie Van Nostrand, a 30-year veteran of the vitality trade, as DPU chair and Staci Rubin, vice chairman of environmental justice on the Conservation Law Foundation, as commissioner.
Cecile Fraser, an lawyer with greater than a decade of expertise within the vitality and utilities trade, was reappointed because the third commissioner.
“The DPU is committed to ensuring the safety and reliability of the MBTA under its new leadership, including through increased safety staffing, regular inspections and transparent communication with the agency,” mentioned Maria Hardiman, a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“Already, the DPU has made significant progress in expanding its rail transit commission,” she added. “The DPU will continue to work diligently to identify safety issues and protect riders.”
But, given the protection points that proceed to plague the MBTA and, till final week, the hands-off method the DPU seemed to be taking in its oversight position – highlighted by the feds of their security administration inspection report final 12 months – two observers mentioned the appointments are laying the groundwork for a bigger change.
“I think it speaks to the governor’s plan to break away transit safety oversight from the DPU and put it somewhere else, which I think she’s committed to,” mentioned Brian Kane, govt director of the MBTA Advisory Board. “And there’s some stuff filed that would do that, so I have a feeling that this is in anticipation of that.”
State Sen. Michael Barrett and Rep. William Straus, respective chairs of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy and Joint Committee on Transportation, each filed laws that may take away MBTA security oversight from the DPU.
The payments provide totally different approaches, however every seeks a brand new T watchdog that’s impartial from the governor’s purview, a key criticism the Federal Transit Administration lodged in regards to the DPU in its security administration inspection report.
Barrett, whose invoice would set up a brand new fee on transportation security oversight and regulation for the MBTA, mentioned Wednesday that he favored Healey’s DPU appointments.
The experience among the many two new commissioners and the holdover member indicated to him that the DPU could be freed as much as deal with local weather and vitality, as soon as its transit duties are stripped.
“The DPU has its plate overflowing with incredibly complicated energy and environmental choices,” Barrett mentioned. “I believe that is an acknowledgement that local weather and vitality is the secret so far as the DPU is worried. It at all times was, however now much more so.
“Just given the nature of the climate crisis, transportation safety and the regulation of common carriers really need to go somewhere else.”
Barrett mentioned he plans to testify for his invoice when it comes earlier than the Joint Committee on Transportation, which he expects will set a listening to a while throughout the subsequent 12 months.
A marketing campaign spokesperson for Healey mentioned in October that “as governor, Maura will instruct her transportation security chief to assessment the Department of Public Utilities’ position in MBTA security oversight.
The governor missed her 60-day self-appointed deadline to rent a transportation security chief final week. A Healey spokesperson directed touch upon her DPU appointments and the company’s future oversight position to Energy and Environmental Affairs.
The EEA defended DPU’s oversight position on Wednesday, pointing to the 35 monitor inspection actions its rail transit division carried out in February and March, to confirm the MBTA’s work related to a corrective motion plan.
The rail transit director famous poor monitor circumstances throughout these inspections and determined to carry out further inspections, the EEA mentioned.
Last Thursday, the MBTA applied a systemwide 10-25 mph pace restriction on all subway traces, following damaging findings from a Red Line monitor inspection carried out by the DPU.
Block pace restrictions stay in place on the Red, Blue and Orange Lines, and speeds stay capped at 25 mph on your entire Green and Mattapan Lines.
Kane mentioned this reveals the DPU “has heard the urgency of the need for them to get out there and do more,” however Barrett says “it’s too little, too late.”
“The staff that took the recent DPU action should survive and move over into an agency that can give it the support it deserves,” Barrett mentioned.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, who criticized DPU oversight in an October Senate listening to in Boston, didn’t reply to a request for remark.