Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

Boston, MA
Project Facts


Full Case Study:

The Massachusetts Bay Transformation Authority (MBTA) needed to execute an ambitious capital investment plan. As strategic advisors, Ascent helped the transit agency transform its capital delivery process, capacity and capability so it could increase performance.

Client Background

The MBTA manages the development, maintenance, operations and planning of one of the oldest public transit systems in the United States. The system provides subway, bus, commuter rail, ferry, and paratransit service to eastern Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island. As a division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, its mission is to provide globally-premier, safe, reliable, convenient, accessible, cost-effective, and sustainable transit service to its communities and customers.

About the Project

A new Governor, Secretary of Transportation, board and executive leadership were tasked with transformation of Boston’s MBTA transit system. The MBTA struggled with project delivery. Expansion projects had stalled, ‘state-of-good-repair’ maintenance project backlogs had grown exponentially, and a long-planned service expansions was losing federal funding. The organization was unable to execute its new capital investment plan, which required doubling the investment of the prior five years.

The Ascent-led initiative included:

– Initiating Organizational Change – Developing an improved organizational structure and staffing plan to support a much larger and more outcome-focused capital program.

Improving Business Processes – Examining current business processes on the macro and micro level to improve their effectiveness in capital delivery.

Creating Controls & Reporting – Developing a long-term, comprehensive approach to capital controls and reporting to deliver immediate relief and fast-turnaround on selected projects. This approach is supported by specific project management tools, processes and staff to facilitate decision-making. Clear data, goals and regular reporting accurately measure progress.

Identifying and Supporting Projects to Accelerate Transformation– Assessing, developing and supporting two programs ahead of the system-wide changes to MBTA’s organization, processes and controls. These ’jump-start’ programs gave the MBTA the necessary capacity and capability to implement rapid change on two critical projects:

    A. Transit Line Extension – A $2.3B extension and new revenue vehicles for one of the transit lines.

    B. Safety Upgrades – Implementation of $500M investment in positive train control to a commuter rail network.


The governor’s leadership team was challenged by the complexity of the MBTA’s structure and processes. It engaged Ascent to find the organization’s barriers to program delivery and create a plan of action to guide long-term transformation.

How does Ascent Help?

As a strategic advisor to the governor’s leadership team, Ascent built a solid foundation of organization, people, processes and technology so the MBTA could begin executing projects effectively.


MBTA’s ability to deliver improvements to its aging yet growing system directly impacts employment and housing, education and health throughout the Boston region. Within two years, the MBTA exceeded its original goal and tripled its capital expenditure spending. Annual spending on state-of-good repair maintenance increased by more than 50% over the prior 5-year average. Federal funding for the Green Line Extension project, held back for cost overruns before the accelerator project was implemented, is restored and the extension is underway. Upgrades to safety hardware and software continues in advance of its deadline.

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