The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has launched a new oversight office tasked with addressing the findings of the Federal Transit Administration’s Safety Management Inspection (SMI) report, which was released Aug. 31, 2022.
The MBTA Quality, Compliance and Oversight Office will operate outside of the current structure of the authority and will be led by Katie Choe, who will serve as director and report directly to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak.
The office will provide a monthly public report detailing MBTA’s progress implementing the FTA’s directives outlined in its final SMI report, which include:
- Managing the impact of operations, maintenance and capital projects requirements on the available workforce;
- Prioritization of safety management information;
- Effectiveness of safety communication; and
- Operating conditions and policies, procedures and training.
“The Quality, Compliance and Oversight Office will help support the MBTA’s over-6,000 employees, from track walkers to inspectors to operators and motorpersons by giving them the tools they need to succeed, including training, documentation and support systems as we continue to implement the recommended actions presented in the FTA’s report,” said Choe. “I have seen first-hand through countless New England winters, events like championship parades and in their everyday work, the perseverance, effort and focus of the MBTA workforce and I am confident that they will rise to the occasion again.”
Who is Katie Choe?
To be clear, Choe brings more than confidence and optimism to her new role. She has more than two decades of experience in construction management and safety oversight. Before becoming director of the MBTA Quality, Compliance and Oversight Office, she served as MBTA’s chief of capital delivery. MBTA says she has led and delivered infrastructure projects that supported and transformed MBTA subway, commuter rail and bus systems and the authority credits her success to her leadership and collaboration across multiple departments.
Prior to joining the MBTA, Choe worked as chief engineer and director of construction management at the City of Boston Public Works Department where she led the development of the award-winning Public Works Climate Resilient Design Standards, the StreetCaster equity-based infrastructure investment strategy and was responsible for an annual $40 million construction program.
Choe also served in various roles at Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), including as a construction project manager, sustainability program manager and assistant director of capital programs, overseeing the development of the award-winning Sustainable Design Standards and Guidelines and responsible for the development and implementation of Massport’s five-year, $1 billion capital plan.
Actions taken to address safety concerns
While the FTA SMI report focuses on four key areas, it includes 53 total actions MBTA needs to take to improve its safety challenges. Poftak said MBTA has implemented or is beginning to implement half of those actions. He noted MBTA has facilitated multiple new safety risk management workshops during the past two months, the MBTA Safety Department has expanded its safety meeting framework to include performance-focused safety data reviews and radio dead spots have been confirmed with frontline staff, and a regular reporting and confirmation has been established with MBTA reporting the majority of spots have been resolved.
The SMI report made note of the observed imbalance between MBTA’s focus on delivering capital projects versus safety-critical operations and maintenance activities. MBTA says Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will engage with a consultant to evaluate potential benefits of a multimodal large construction unit apart from the MBTA and other agencies of MassDOT. The goal of such a unit would be to remove the large project management from agencies such as MBTA. This model is like the one MBTA has taken with the Green Line Extension and South Coast Rail projects, but this new engagement would investigate the opportunities to expand this model.
MBTA leadership and the authority’s unions began meeting at the end of August to engage stakeholders on workforce safety communications and meetings on safety themes and issues. MBTA says the goal will be a workforce that fully embraces a safety-first culture and adopts its practices for sustained improvement. MBTA also says it is developing a series of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to support MBTA staff with input from stakeholders and union groups. MBTA is targeting the end of the week to issue RFPs directly related to the scope of the MBTA Quality, Compliance and Oversight Office.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is filing a supplemental budget that includes a proposed $200 million for the MBTA to support the MBTA’s work to address the FTA’s safety directives and $10 million to establish a training academy, under MassDOT, that will create a talent pipeline to address MBTA staffing challenges.
“The MBTA’s number one priority remains safety for both our riders and our employees. We are grateful to the FTA for their recommendations as we build on numerous actions and initiatives already in place across the organization to strengthen our safety management,” said Poftak. “Under the leadership of Katie Choe, I am confident that through the Quality, Compliance and Oversight Office, the MBTA will be better positioned to address the challenges it has faced and implement changes to the organization and system to provide a safer and more reliable T.”