Scott’s Resignation a Wake Up Call for Massachusetts

MBTA GM Beverly Scott, PhD, delivered an impassioned speech earlier this week  [Photo via Boston Globe]

We’ve seen it before: the highly qualified leader of a beleaguered transit agency gets fed up with state politics getting in the way of him/her doing his/her job and resigns.

Take Jay Walder, former CEO of Hong Kong MTR, former Managing Director for Finance and Planning of Transport for London, and current CEO of Motivate, the company that manages Hubway. When he resigned as NYC MTA CEO back in 2011, it was not merely to take the job at HK MTR that paid 3 times as much. His resignation followed significant difficulty with indifferent politicians and seemed to be punctuated by his last in-person encounter with Governor Cuomo: getting passed over after travelling to the governor's office. Unlike here where the seat of state government is less than a kilometre away from transit headquarters, Walder had travelled to the capitol 2.5 hours by train upstate to see the governor.

Jay Walder as NYC MTA CEO [Photo via  Wall Street Journal ]

Jay Walder as NYC MTA CEO [Photo via Wall Street Journal]

His gubernatorial jilting may not have been the direct cause of his resignation, but it followed a series of events that showed the governor didn't have his back. Like Scott, Walder was the previous governor's appointment. Just as here, there was little contact with the governor since the new governor's entry to office. And as in this case, clear praise from the governor only came after the transit leader stepped down.

In a recent lecture at the Harvard Kennedy School of Business, Walder plainly stated that US transit agencies simply cannot continue to depend on the state governments for revenue as they annually turn their back on the very lifeblood of their economies and, in turn, their tax revenues. Even at Hong Kong MTR, the world’s most profitable transit system in operation, major capital expenses for expansions are heavily subsidised by central government.

Baker may not have explicitly asked for Scott’s resignation, but it was clear from her press conference on Tuesday this week that she was mad as hell and she wasn’t going to take this anymore. At the moment, the motivation behind her resignation remains veiled, but it's clear that this doesn't come from a lack of confidence in her. The resignation letter she submitted shortly after a MassDOT board meeting in which she was lauded for her work reads like a melancholy goodbye to a good friend.

"I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

Ultimately, where do we go from here? That's the hard part. Some have suggested hiring the new T boss from within. The benefit is that many of these people already know the nuances of the system.

Looking outside the T would prove more difficult, as we noted several years ago leading up to Dr. Scott's appointment. Public sector executives are paid considerably less than their private sector counterparts, which makes it more difficult to recruit knowledgeable and experienced talent. Add to that the weight of transit politics and near-guaranteed politicking with an unsupportive legislature and no sign of commitment to new or more revenue from the current administration.

The good folks over at Radio Boston also had a few words on what's to come. Former Governor Dukakis and David Gunn have reflected on what might be needed of Governor Baker in the coming weeks: get on the T.

Dr. Scott's point remains: 'Just take Bev out the picture...this is not just about cutting costs'; we need to actually start having the adult conversation because whoever comes next, they won't be able to do diddly-squat without a significant down payment on the capital investments we've needed thousands of yesterdays ago.