Editorial | A Dot fan says T’s new hire up to the job

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Phillip Eng

Is Gov. Maura Healey’s newest hire – Phillip Eng – up to the gargantuan task of “fixing” what’s wrong at the MBTA? One lifelong Dorchester resident who worked closely with him in New York state government answers with an emphatic “yes!”

Rosemary Powers, who now leads the Cristo Rey Boston High School on Savin Hill Avenue, counted Eng among her colleagues when she served as an aide to former New York governor Andrew Cuomo. They also worked together at New York’s Dept. of Transportation before Eng took over as the head of the Long Island Railroad four years ago.

Powers has been a sharp critic of the MBTA. A rider herself, but more importantly as head of school at Cristo Rey, she sees how many of her students are late to class each day through no fault of their own.

When she heard that her former colleague was Healey’s choice to lead the MBTA, she breathed a sigh of relief. “I can’t imagine a better fit for this job,” she said.

For starters, she says, Eng is a proud public servant, transit professional, and engineer who enjoys a challenge. He doesn’t wait for subordinates to bring problems to his door. He goes looking for them himself. “

He can diagnose what’s wrong quickly. I’m sure you’ll see him on platforms and storage lots and engaging with the riding public.”

Like many in her neighborhood, Powers has grown increasingly miffed over the T’s mishandling of the bridge at the Savin Hill station, which has become a hazard for pedestrians and motorists as a repair project drags on without an end in sight. She keeps getting the same unsatisfactory answer from T officials, she says. The basic gist of it is: “We’ll get back to you in six months.”

“Phillip won’t give an answer like that. He’ll be very responsive.”

Eng also won’t be rattled by the intense spotlight of the Boston media or the frayed nerves of T riders, who are understandably ornery about their experience, she says. The New York system that Eng ran most recently is considerably larger than the MBTA and has just as many—if not more—pressures from politicians and pundits.

One advantage for the newcomer, according to Powers, is that “it’s so bad that there’s some easy things that he can do to make people feel better in the short term.”

True. But ultimately it will take a massive commitment of resources and focus from Eng’s new boss — Gov. Healey— to follow through on the promised improvements.

Before it was known as the MBTA, the agency for many decades was simply the MTA. One might argue that it should revert to MTA — Maura’s Transit Agency. Whether Phillip Eng rises to this challenge or falls short, the buck will, and should, stop at her desk in the executive suite. At the moment, that means a full-court press to get more new hires behind steering wheels and on repair crews to make up for a staffing shortage that is partly to blame for the T’s sluggish performance.

We’re rooting for them both to succeed.

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