MBTA GM Steve Poftak: “If I thought my departure would make the T safe, I would do it.”

BOSTON — With criticism of the MBTA mounting after a series of service issues and the recent death of a Red Line passenger, the T’s General Manager Steve Poftak defended the job he was doing while at a ground-breaking event Thursday for a new commuter rail station.

“If I thought my departure would make the T safer, I would do it. I don’t think it will,” Poftak said. “I feel I am doing the right thing leading the T. I feel that I am equipped to lead this organization. I understand what needs to be done. If there’s other voices, they’re entitled to their opinion.”

Poftak spoke after T officials broke ground at a $50 million Commuter Rail station at Winchester Center. 

He confirmed Thursday that the driver of the Red Line train that dragged and killed 39-year-old Robinson Lalin was moved from paid administrative leave to unpaid leave because of a rules violations.

Poftak faced questions about staffing shortages that caused the T to cut service on the Orange, Red, and Blue lines, which will all now run on Saturday schedules during the week. 

The changes came after a transit inspector’s report found the T doesn’t have enough staff for its control center. 

“We will get back to the regular level of service on the Orange, Red and Blue [lines] when we believe it is safe to do so,” Poftak said. “We are obviously keeping our foot to the accelerator in terms of trying to hire additional staff. It has been extraordinarily challenging in this environment. I don’t think that’s unique to the MBTA. You look at our colleagues in the airline industry, who are going through massive numbers of canceled and delayed flights because they have staffing shortages. So we are aggressively continuing to hire.” 

He added that one of the reasons that it has taken a long time to get more drivers in the rotation is the on-boarding process.

“I think the part that is sometimes difficult for folks to understand is there is then a training process. One does not get a job at the MBTA and step on a bus and begin carrying customers. You have to go through a training process, you have to go through a series of safety certifications. So even though we have people coming through the door, we then have to train them. It doesn’t translate immediately to more operators. We are also working to augment our HR department. We’ve essentially doubled it in size over the last six months.”  

Despite the calls for his resignation, Poftak said he isn’t going anywhere.

“I think we still have unfinished work to do.”

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