Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Acting General Manager Jonathan Davis’ Performance Deserves Recognition

It is an honor and pleasure to debut this wonderful editorial written by Scott Page for Boston to a T. The article truly portrays MBTA Acting General Manager Jonathan Davis in a positive and gratifying light, one which he deserved. Here is another great guest post by Scott Page! You can follow him on twitter :@ScottridestheT

Jonathan Davis’ Performance Deserves Recognition 

By: Scott Page

The position of General Manager at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is a seemingly endless revolving door of the politically connected who’s who, with the job being filled by six different people since the turn of the millennium. This December Beverly Scott, a highly regarded transportation executive, will take the reins at the T from Acting General Manager Jonathan Davis. Davis, the Authority’s Chief Financial Officer, took over as Acting GM in September of 2011 when then General Manager Richard Davey joined Governor Deval Patrick’s cabinet as Secretary of Transportation. 

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Courtesy: MassDOT
The role of Acting GM for Jonathan Davis should have been to serve as a figure head until a permanent GM could be found.

Instead Davis immediately found himself facing a $161 million budget deficit and a growing $8.6 billion debt. Without new revenues from the State the T would be forced to, for the fourth time in twelve years, consider raising fares and cutting services.

Armed with two proposals from the Central Transportation Planning Staff, Davis turned to the riding public to seek input on the dire fiscal state at the T. Neither proposal (both of which included steep fare increases and drastic service cuts) proved to be popular with riders and resulted in packed town hall meetings all over Eastern Massachusetts.

A calm and mild mannered accountant, Davis found himself at the center of the riding public’s anger. While most public meeting attendees focused their frustration and concerns on the MBTA and the legislature, some directly attacked Mr. Davis – including one woman at a February meeting who told Davis he should “watch his back”. 

Through the two month process of public meetings Davis remained an active listener. He interacted with riders of every service the MBTA provides and never shied away from criticism. But most importantly Jonathan Davis, along with MassDOT Secretary and CEO Richard Davey, did something none of their predecessors ever did – they spoke openly and frankly with the riding public about the severe and crippling budget crisis at the T.

In addition to overseeing the 2012 budget crisis, Jonathan Davis also implemented a series of changes at the T. 

Under Davis’ leadership the MBTA finally launched long-awaited countdown clocks on its rapid transit lines, inked an imperative service-life extending overhaul contract for its most reliable light rail cars, instituted mobile ticketing on the Commuter Rail, and forced the completion of necessary infrastructure projects to better improve public safety. 

Davis also travelled to South Korea in September 2012 to get answers from Hyundai-Rotem about a long-delayed batch of Commuter Rail coaches. He placed pressure on the manufacturer to turn their promises into action, and vowed to hold Hyundai-Rotem accountable by instituting penalties for missing deadlines as stipulated in their contract.

Lastly Davis’ signature, yet least publicly known, accomplishment was his ability to win over the admiration, respect, and support of the MBTA’s staff. The frequent turn over in the General Manager’s office has created an apparent disconnect between appointed leadership at 10 Park Plaza and the day-to-day Operations staff. While many Bus Operators, Motorpersons, Inspectors, Instructors, Fuelers, Cleaners, Track Laborers, Wire Repairmen, Painters, Welders, and others build entire careers at the T, GMs change like the weather. In recent years General Managers have deepened the divide by apologizing for the way the T operates and kowtowing to the anti-MBTA-employee Boston media. Davis bucked this trend.
2012 MBTA Bus Rodeo
Photo: Scott Page

He frequently stood up for the Authority and served as a tireless advocate for workplace morale – most notably by defending the MBTA’s participation in the American Public Transportation Association’s annual bus and rail rodeo despite an investigative hack-piece by Channel 5’s Sean Kelly. Mr. Davis firmly asserted that anything the T could do to promote and reward the best-of-the-best in its Operations staff would continue at the MBTA. His pro-employee stance garnered him a standing ovation at both the bus rodeo and rail rodeo this past fall. 

While the MBTA still faces many challenges going ahead there is no doubt that Jonathan Davis went above and beyond the duties incumbent of an Acting General Manager and will surely be remembered as one of the MBTA’s strongest leaders.

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