Phillip Eng takes on difficult task as MBTA’s new General Manager

Restoring services, rebuilding workforce, and regaining public trust in Greater Boston’s troubled transit system

Sharon Mollerus | CC-BY-2.0

Phillip Eng’s appointment as the new General Manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) comes at a critical time for the troubled transit system. As the fourth largest public transit system in the United States, the MBTA has seen a decrease in reliability in nearly all of its service modes over the last year. Eng’s responsibilities as the new General Manager will include restoring the MBTA’s services, building its workforce, addressing its safety concerns and most importantly, restoring public confidence in the system.

Eng’s track record as the former President of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) offers hope for the MBTA’s future. During his tenure, the LIRR achieved some of the highest on-time performance metrics in the railroad’s history, with a higher proportion of trains arriving on time every year during his four years as its top executive. If Eng is able to replicate this success at the MBTA, it would go a long way toward addressing the system’s declining appeal.

However, the MBTA is facing challenges beyond reliability. At a recent meeting, MBTA officials predicted that ridership would only reach 67% of pre-pandemic ridership in the coming year. Mary Ann O’Hara, the T’s chief financial officer, and MBTA board chair Betsy Taylor seemed to resign themselves to this pessimistic outlook, agreeing that these low ridership numbers represented a “new normal” for the system.

While it may be tempting to blame this reduction in ridership on remote work, car traffic in Boston has rebound to pre-pandemic levels as workers, students, shoppers and visitors return to the city. However, rather than choosing to ride the MBTA, many are choosing to drive. Boston, the fourth-most congested city in the world, should not find it difficult to entice riders to use public transit. Even a moderately well-functioning transit system would appeal to many Boston-area drivers who spend an average of 134 hours stuck in traffic each year.

With an experienced General Manager at the helm, there is hope that the MBTA will begin moving in a better direction. “It’s time for a new way of doing business at the MBTA,” said Eng in a statement on Monday. “I’m laser focused on finding innovative solutions to complex problems and approaching them with a sense of urgency that always puts the customer first.”

Eng’s success at the MBTA will depend on the Healey administration and the state legislature remaining engaged in efforts to improve the system. Building a 21st-century transportation system that is safe, reliable, frequent, resilient, and accessible is crucial to meeting the state’s climate goals, ensuring regional competitiveness, and reducing traffic congestion. A well-functioning public transportation system is essential for any thriving state, and Massachusetts deserves nothing less.

Laura Davis
Laura Davis

Former Transform Transportation, Advocate, PIRG


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