Opinion: MBTA only one part of a fragile transportation network

Opinion: Boston Globe | By Kristina Egan | FEBRUARY 27, 2015

AP/FILE. The T is not the only part of the transportation network that needs to be updated. Earlier this month, cars were gridlocked on Beacon Street.

AP/FILE. The T is not the only part of the transportation network that needs to be updated. Earlier this month, cars were gridlocked on Beacon Street.

The MBTA’s performance in the record snow and cold temperatures gives us a glimpse of a possible future — one in which our transportation system completely fails us. When the T shuts down, businesses and workers lose millions of dollars. The torturous driving commutes of the past few weeks will be the norm if T riders decide they can’t rely on transit and start driving to work. For those who have no option but the T, the past few weeks have been a nightmare.

The winter exposed the fragility of the MBTA to hundreds of thousands of commuters, but our entire transportation network is unreliable and outdated. We have miles of roads in rough shape and hundreds of bridges in need of attention. This was true before the snowfall and will be true when the snow melts.

While we can’t control the weather — and these more intense and frequent storms may become the norm, due to climate change — we can act to rebuild our transportation system.

As the new commission appointed by Governor Baker gets to work on diagnosing the situation and producing solutions, here is a suggested plan to get us on track:

First, continue reforms to stretch transportation dollars further. The Legislature passed two big reform initiatives in the last five years, eliminating the MBTA’s “23 and out” retirement benefits and shifting MBTA employees to less expensive health insurance.

More can be done. At the top of the list is accelerating improvements to the MBTA’s system for maintaining its rails and rail vehicles, power systems, and buses.

A solid asset management plan will prioritize fixes and prevent more disruption. The new system is supposed to be online by June.

While reforms are necessary, they alone cannot fix the MBTA. The agency is so burdened by debt and decades of backlogged repairs, there is no hope of fixing the T without additional revenues. The same holds true for transportation infrastructure in every corner of our commonwealth.

We simply must raise additional funds to fix the MBTA and our bridges, roads, sidewalks, and regional bus systems. Here’s how we could do it:

  1. Shift a portion of the MBTA’s debt to the state. The Commonwealth should pick up payment for the Big Dig-related debt that’s saddling the MBTA. This would free up $130 million for the most pressing repairs.
  2. Raise the gas tax by 10 cents to generate $260 million for statewide needs. Dedicate half of it to accelerate MBTA repairs, and half to repair local road damage and to replace old regional transit buses.
  3. Start testing new and innovative ways to replace the gas tax, since it’s not a sustainable funding source as cars become more fuel-efficient. Options include expanding the number of roads that are tolled electronically and piloting the use of a fee paid for each mile driven.
  4. Let regions determine their own transportation future. Many states allow regions to tax themselves and dedicate the funds locally. Let’s give that opportunity to our cities and towns so they can advance regional transportation projects.

Political leaders have said they won’t consider raising taxes. But we’re already paying in lost wages, sales, and family time. Transportation that fails us, costs us. If we don’t upgrade our outdated transportation network, we will continue to pay dearly in the future. Our declining transportation system will strangle economic growth.

To ensure Massachusetts stays competitive, we need our transportation system to grow with the economy. MBTA ridership is projected to keep growing, so adding capacity is essential if we are to be competitive with cities like New York and Dallas and countries like China, that are expanding or building new systems.

In 2013, the Legislature took an important first step in increasing funding for transportation. We call on the Legislature to continue their progress and fix the problem once and for all. And we ask Governor Baker to start the conversation by submitting, in his first budget, a responsible plan to both build on recent reforms and raise new funds for transportation.

Kristina Egan is director of Transportation for Massachusetts, a statewide advocacy coalition.

Permanent link to this article: https://carmensunion589.org/2015/02/opinion-mbta-only-one-part-of-a-fragile-transportation-network/

3 comments

    • j cat on March 10, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    I cannot see how this can be done , to say the MBTA is in an emergency before anything happens.

    This is a spin move by the DR.SCOTT GM , were she did not have a snow plan. If a big snow storm is coming, you ask all workers to report to work before the storm strikes if they can. Many reasons why a worker can not report , children at home or ???

    with all these workers available and having snow removal ready for use , this snow failure would have been better handled…

    MBTA calling workers to come in , during the storm just shows how stupid these upper management idiots are…..so now lets spin this fail , to the workers that they did not come to work .. I don’t have any sled dogs here …

    • Hall on March 8, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Now the governor wants to micro manage the T himself? He wants to restrict vacation time with bad weather approaching? I certainly hope he is talking about calling in for a day off and not legitimate vacation time with plans and reservations. I can see not allowing calling in for a V day without an emergency because we are a transportation company, but not canceling our long term vacation plans.

    • j cat on February 27, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    So here again another Boston Globe editorial that I do not agree with. Not one mention of the bloated upper management with no transportation ability. If the number of non transportation providing employees are reduced , the MBTA will work , as it did decades ago.

    Listening to the workers that provide transportation , are needed to get this operating properly.
    All new equipment purchases , must be selected with performance results in these contracts. That would also include any parts or unit repair services off the property.
    A STATE contact hotline is needed , so that any political contracts being used to waste funds can be reported. Too many times parts/repairs done by contractors ended up in the trash. never reported, for fear of retaliation.
    Even issues with the contract cleaning services have been covered up .
    So the MBTA pays twice , once for the political contract service , then again for the MBTA employees to do this work correctly.

    The Baker administration will now be held responsible, IF He does like Patrick and dump no nothing managers to create unproductive wasteful employment. . We will see no changes ,and this will in the end cause great harm to those ,that are hard working every day moving the ridership.

    Commuter rail failures are a great example of political contracts. privatization again does not work , its all about profit…..

    Climate change has been a part of the history of the planet for about 4.5 billion years.. every year, the temperatures have increased to the highest levels ever recorded in modern history..The exception to this is Boston and where the MBTA operates.

    Perhaps the new trains should be required that, they operate under water ..

    Higher taxes are a drain on all of us. wasteful spending on many social programs by Patrick need much review. After careful review then new revenue should be created . working people of moderate and low incomes pay the most with gasoline taxes since they drive to perhaps 3 different jobs to survive…….

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