EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 10, 2009

Editorial: Manager's ouster won't solve T's problems

Daniel Grabauskas is out as the MBTA's general manager. So may we now presume there will be no more accidents on the Green Line, fares will go down instead of up, service will be expanded rather than reduced, and the MBTA's deficit will miraculously turn into a surplus?

Not likely, since the problems with the state's largest transit agency are deeply entrenched and can be traced to decisions made by administrations and legislatures going back many decades. A key impediment only slightly addressed in the transportation "reform" bill passed earlier this year: union contracts that are among the most generous in the country and which absolutely hamstring managers' ability to manage.

Gov. Deval Patrick and Transportation Secretary James Aloisi may think they found a convenient scapegoat in the Ipswich Republican. But Grabauskas was doing the very best he could given the serious limits under which the T's general manager must operate.

While the administration insists someone else might do better, the action by its allies on the board last Thursday simply added to the agency's already woeful fiscal problems in the amount of $327,000 — the cost of buying out Grabauskas' contract which was not due to expire until May of next year.

Patrick wanted Grabauskas out, but then complained about the cost of the board's complying with the legally binding provisions of his contract. He would not resign, the board had no grounds for firing him, so the only alternative was to buy Grabauskas out of that contract.

Such shenanigans only add to the difficulty state officials will have convincing the public it needs more money with which to maintain road, bridges and transit lines.

Grabauskas helped bring the MBTA into the 21st century, using the latest in technology to improve the customer experience whether through online access to train schedules or use of the Charlie Card to pay bus and subway fares.

State Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, who chairs the legislative Transportation Committee, spoke for many, we think, when he said in the wake of Grabauskas' ouster, "It is discouraging beyond words to watch the governor and the soon-to-be-abolished MBTA board spend their time trying to settle a political score at taxpayers' expense."

Those taxpayers are already $327,000 poorer as a result of the administration's action, but the cost could ultimately prove much higher.