The $4 subway ride
And heavens knows what's in store for bus and commuter rail users.
The Globe's Noah Bierman spells out with some detail what everyone knows to be the hard truth: service glitches and construction delays aren't the MAJOR problems at the T. Nope, running out of cash is.
Meanwhile, Deval Patrick and his transportation team labor endlessly on plans to overhaul the transportation system -- you know the bankrupt turnpike, crumbling roads and bridges and thicket of issues left over from the Big Dig.
The head of the MBTA advisory board estimates the agency's deficit is on pace to hit $142 million in the 2009-2010 budget year, a year after budget managers depleted reserves and refinanced debt to stave off insolvency.
MBTA officials recently learned that the state sales tax is expected to see its biggest decline since the Legislature began using it to fund the bulk of the T's operations in 2001. That shortfall would not only leave the T without new money to cover contractually required salary increases, it would also force the state to kick in about $86 million more to keep the subsidy from dipping lower.
The time for planning is long over -- and that may be the one of the reasons that Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen may be heading out the door.
In fairness, the problems are not of Patrick's makings. MBTA boss Dab Grabauskas is a holdover from the Romney administration. The funding problem is the result of another bad deal crafted by the Legislature -- similar to the disastrous Massachusetts Highway System that is crushing the Turnpike Authority.
But we are now two years into the Patrick administration and the problems appear to be virtually untouched. The governor has been unwilling to get behind a funding mechanism -- the gas tax -- that would deal with the overall problems and not saddle select northern and western suburban commuters with the price tag for the Big Dig fiasco he inherited.
He has also had two full years to watch how Grabauskas' reign at the MBTA has resulted in poorly executed construction projects and mangled schedules -- even as gasoline prices sent commuters scurrying for public transportation options.
Patrick needs to have a fully developed plan -- covering highways and public transit -- in the hands of the Legislature when the new session gavels open in January.
Lawmakers are going to be grappling with some agonizingly difficult decisions in a budget that may require a 10 percent whack to the bottom line. That level of pain requires that everything be on the table -- particularly the chronic problem of an underfunded, less-than-successful transportation "system."