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Welcome to Boston. Now get to work! Former governor serves up some timely advice for new T chief
Here’s an urgent message for new MBTA boss Phillip Eng: “Get cracking.”
And it’s courtesy of someone who knows a thing or two about about turning around our state’s perennially dysfunctional transit system, former Gov. Michael Dukakis.
In an interview Tuesday with Contrarian Boston, Dukakis offered up some impromptu advice to Eng, an engineer and veteran transit leader just appointed general manager of the T by Gov. Maura Healey.
In his previous job, Eng dramatically raised the performance of the previously laggard Long Island Rail Road.
Dukakis recalled his own battle as governor in the 1980s to turn around a T that had fallen into disrepair and disrepute.
Former Gov. Michael Dukakis back in the day: He whipped the T back into shape. (by Hal O'Brien)
The MBTA had come off a series of tumultuous years that saw a one-day shutdown after the whole system ran out of money, a kickback scheme that landed the T’s chairman in prison, and trains fall into disrepair.
Dukakis told CB that reviving the troubled transit system required consistent focus and management, something he argues has been lacking in recent years, citing another member of the ex-governor’s club, Charlie Baker.
We’d argue that the T started careening down its path to utter ineptitude a couple decades ago, if not longer, but that’s a story for another day.
“It’s not complicated,” Dukakis said. “You put together a good team. You push them. You don’t play around - you get on with it.”
However, the former governor, who oversaw a booming Massachusetts economy in the 1980s and ran for president in 1988, contends the T’s new general manager must do a lot more than just get service back on track.
Rather, Eng and his boss, Gov. Maura Healey, need to get behind the long-standing campaign to build the North-South Rail Link, the long-proposed rail tunnel that would connect North and South stations. (Keep reading - we dive into that critical and at times controversial project below.)
All that said, we don’t want to make it sound like Dukakis was downplaying the challenges facing the new T chief.
The former governor says the MBTA is in considerably worse shape today than when he engineered its comeback in the 1980s.
“It’s wasn’t operating well, but we never had that,” Dukakis said. “We had a functioning system.”
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