Catching fare evaders and being Tweeted about are just two of the new experiences for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA, the T) General Manager and MassDOT Rail and Transit Administrator Richard A. Davey faces as he strives to improve communication for the T riders.
It was about a week before I went out to see the system that Davey gave up his car for good, donating the Nissan Altima to the Home for Little Wanderers.
“People appreciate it,” he says of he and his wife relying on the T. He says to get to work it’s only a few stops, but he and his wife use it frequently, almost exclusively.
He says it’s a largely positive experience and while he was riding with Lydia Rivera, MBTA deputy director of communications, they caught a fare evader. “I’m quite sure he didn’t know who I was.”
Some people recognize him and will come up to him with questions or comments but also that he has a Twitter account and will read from time to time that someone has spotted him out on the system. One recent comment was a Tweet from someone that said to the masses, “Saw MBTA GM at Tico. I was going to go up to him but I’m going to let him chillax.”
It may sound like just fun and amusement, but as Davey says, it gives him a chance to see the customer experience and better connect with them. “It’s fundamental to listen to people, to hear what they have to say.”
From MBCR to MBTA
Davey started in transportation in 2003 when he was asked to fill a position at the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR), the company which operates and maintains the MBTA’s commuter rail service. He was working with them on a temporary basis as a lawyer helping negotiate contracts, collective bargaining. “I saw the business model and argued that I thought that they should have a general counsel,” he says.
“Then they formed it, they agreed. And then I argued that they should hire me to do it and they agreed and that was my start.” Davey served as counsel to help the MBCR transition team that assumed MBTA commuter rail operations from Amtrak in July 2003.
While at MBCR, he focused on programs to improve operations, safety and customer service; on-time performance rates improved and customer complaints dropped.
In 2006-2007 he became deputy general manager, general counsel and then became general manager of the commuter rail in fall of 2008. “I ran that for about 18 months, closing in on two years, when this opportunity came up at the T,” Davey states.
Transformation reform in Massachusetts has brought a lot of change in the organization. In 2009 Governor Deval Patrick announced his vision for a comprehensive reform to simplify the system while addressing the financial challenges.
Some of the actions from that reform include a consolidated Office of Transportation, a gas tax increase, moving all transportation employees, including the T, to the same health insurance plan as other public employees and aligning the T’s pension system with that of the state.
Davey says the T and other transit properties often have a top-down approach, “there’s a real command and control.
“That’s good in a crisis, but the goal is not to be in a crisis,” he says. “So the goal, then, is not to be managing that way. The goal is to push as much decision-making down as possible and to give our employees the principles to do that.”
Davey continues, “If they’re focused on safety, if they’re focused on customer service, if they’re focused on saving the authority and the taxpayer money and if they’ve done those three things when they make a decision, then the decision 99 percent of the time is going to be right; so I don’t need to make it. Nor does my senior staff need to make it.”
Another change in culture has been to focus on not telling the boss what one thinks the boss wants to hear. “I can’t solve problems unless I know about them,” he says. “I think there’s been a tendency here to tell the boss what you think they want to hear.