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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Smilin' Dan has got to go

Leave it to MBTA boss Dan Grabauskas to finally talk to the Globe about the T's deplorable financial condition on Super Tuesday. It wasn't a bad strategy: a story that should have topped Page One got bumped below the fold on Metro.

I know I'm far from the only person who has a hard time buying the fact that despite $70 million in fare increases on buses, trains and subways in 2007, the T is still looking at a $75 million deficit in fiscal 2009-- and this admission was the first volley in a plan for a legislative bailout.

It's also really clear -- any bailout must come with the strings that Grabauskas must go.

Smilin' Dan has run the T since May 2005. Before that, he was Secretary of Transportation for Mitt Romney and before that, in an ominous sign, he was the head of the Registry of Motor Vehicles. He has played an integral role in the state's thoroughly dysfunctional transportation system since the turn of the millennium.

Enough is enough.

Regular readers know what I think about his "management" of the T. Higher fares accompanied by longer waits both for buses, trains and trolleys but also for completion of multiple construction jobs that drag on over time and over budget. Buses and Green Line trains run in pairs -- with long waiting times in between. Fare evasion remains a problem on overcrowded trolley cars where rear doors are opened to let sardines out.

Smilin' Dan -- who admitted to the Globe in a magazine article that he didn't used commuter rail because it wasn't convenient to his schedule -- got a pass for a long time because of the "other" transportation nightmare, the Big Dig. But his time is up.

Yes, the T is saddled with high debt. But it also gets a penny from the sales tax. Excuses for poor management AND poor service are no longer enough.

Deval Patrick should have fired Grabauskas the day he took charge. Today would be late but acceptable. The system has already been leaderless for too long. At least there would be some salary savings.

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Anonymous Hoss said...

Dan peaked when he turned the Registry around. He has not done much since then, unfortunately. Being a gay republican gets him things he may not have been qualified for otherwise. He should go to a private transport company and make some dough now.

February 06, 2008 10:21 AM  
Blogger John Mc said...

Well, not to fight FOR Dan, but don't forget David Gunn. He pretty much turned around every transit system he ever touched. Except Boston. There was so much political patronage and resistance to 'the way we do things' that he got nothing done here and left in frustration. (then went to NYC and improved their subway system dramatically).

February 06, 2008 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Dan has done a great job. As a daily Red line rider, I can say with certainty that the trains have never been more reliable and the stations have never been cleaner. I also love the new announcements about when a train is approaching (and whether it's a Braintree or Ashmont one). Keep up the good work Dan!!

February 06, 2008 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't he have a five year contract to 2010? They would have to buy it out for him to leave early, so there would be no salary savings, but an added expense (the cost of his buy-out plus the salary of his replacement for the last 2.5 years of his contract)

February 06, 2008 12:39 PM  
Blogger mibsphil said...

Yikes! I dont know what Red Line Anonymous is riding, but the one I endure is unreliable at best. Both the stations and the trains are filthy and everything is in disrepair. It's time to get rid of the so-called management at the T and get some people in there who actually know a thing or two about transportation. There's no excuse for a city like Boston to have such a third-world transit system. It's embarrassing, especially when tourists try to ride the T. And those of us who ride it daily, and pay the taxes, should be outraged. Our governor and state legislature need to begin taking this seriously and put the T on the top of their agenda.

February 06, 2008 2:57 PM  
Blogger Hawkeye0915 said...

Dan G may well be a buffoon, but the T's problems go far deeper than the current poor leadership. Things the big government lib readers of this blog don't like to hear, like union entrenchment in Mass's public sector, can explain all the "budget deficits" the T has. No less a union suckup than the Globe did a nice piece on the MBTA a few months ago, showing that the average T worker called in sick 11 times more than his/her allotted sick days in 2006. That's not the worst case, mind you, but the AVERAGE. I can't imagine calling in sick 11 times in a year period, never mind 11 days on top of my allotment. This, together with contracts that allow retirement after 23 years at 75% of highest salary for the rest of their lives, subsidized health care in retirement for the rest of their lives.......I could go on. Any fare hikes and/or tax increases that are ostensibly to cover "repairs", "higher fuel costs", "increasing health care costs," etc., are for no such thing. They are to pad the benefits of the dopes working for the T. This is why all of us evil right-wingers oppose higher taxes in general. If we really believed the extra revenue were being used for what it's supposed to be used for, that would be fine, but it doesn't work that way in this state.

February 06, 2008 3:28 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Hawk, believe it or not this is one issue where Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives can agree. The system is a pathetic mess.

But just for the heck of it, please note that the T is a semi-autonomous agency whose board members have been appointed by Republicans who acquiesced to the contracts negotiated by Republican appointees like Smilin' Dan.

That same structural problem is very much at the heart of John Mc's comment. The patronage is just too ingrained, the resistance to change just too deep within the Legislature to foster significant change.

Anon 12:19, you may be right about the contract to 2010. But you suck up a severance package as part of the cost of change and you move on.

Patrick has already eliminated Steve Tocco in higher ed and turned around the membership of the Turnpike Authority board. Those won't cost as much but they were needed changes. This is an even more greater need, because I, like mibsphil, find the system a dysfunctional embarrassment and whatever cost is, it is worth it.

February 06, 2008 7:17 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

Ok everyone - what do we do about it? Roll over and play dead? Everyday I catch the commuter rail on the Worcester line and I as well as practically everyone else simply shake our heads in disbelief. Yes I agree, the commuter rail is equal to third-world travel.

But what do we do? What SHOULD we do? All I can think of is we must voice our displeasure as much as we can. Write to our representatives. Write to the MBTA. Talk about it and get everyone "on board" here (pun intended) and get vocal that this situation is unacceptable.

Does anyone else here go to the Back Bay station? Does anyone else think this is the most lacklustre, the most depressing and unhealthy place they've seen in the civilized world? I am appalled by the pollution from the Mass Pike (whoever thought of putting a train platform where people have to stand and breath that air, right beside one of the busiest enclosed traffic areas in Boston?) And up in the station lobby, the air is so bad you can see the smoke trapped inside. People breathe that in and then the MBTA tells us that smoking is prohibited on MBTA property! Wouldn't just putting in some proper ventilation prevent that from happening?

And the noise level - the announcements, combined with the loud engine roar in an encolsed space with concrete walls is deafening. The decibel level is surely against health codes. There is an LED display on the platform which could be used to announce train information instead of being used simply to thank commuters for using the commuter rail!

So they have no money to put more trains on - if only we did our jobs so badly! The MBTA is virtually broke. Well whomever is still around that brought that about should be fired and replaced by people who have the drive and the competence to get things turned around. What about using advertising to put some color on those grey walls at Back Bay and earn some revenue as well?

If we commuters just shake our heads and do nothing else, then we are virtually letting this continue. A show of strength signalling that this is intolerable is a start that will pressure those responsible to act. Please write to MBTA:

Bob Stoetzel
MBTA Commuter Rail Chief
45 High Street, 9th Floor
Boston MA 02110

or the Governor's Office of Duval Patrick:

Massachusetts State House
Office of the Governor
Office of the Lt. Governor
Room 360
Boston, MA 02133

Less cars on Boston roads - good public transportation is worth striving for.

February 18, 2008 1:40 AM  

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