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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, November 04, 2009

Unsafe at any speed

How'd you like to be on the Green Line this morning reading the Globe headline "Report Finds T's Riders at Risk." Actually it's a somewhat moot point: if you use the MBTA regularly, you already know that.

What's interesting in the report by a special panel commissioned by Gov. Deval Patrick is where the fingers of blame are pointed: not my favorite whipping boy, former General Manager Dan Grabauskas. Nope, they are aimed at the source of most of the state's woes these days, the Great and General Court.

David D'Alessandro, who headed up the panel created after Grabauskas' ouster, paints an ugly picture of MBTA management.
“It’s fair to say that they are not keeping up with the safety standards that they themselves subscribe to."
Two Green Line crashes and too many track fires to keep track of certainly validates that statement.

The report validates the contention of Grabauskas and others that the problems center on the strangling debt imposed upon the T by a good legislative idea with bad follow-through. In this case, it was a move to end the wasteful forward-funding system that allowed the T to present a blank check to the Legislature for payment.

And much like the mangled creation of the Massachusetts Highway System, that strangled and eventually killed the late, unlamented Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, lawmakers did just enough to sweep the mess under the rug for awhile.

For both the highway system and public transit, "awhile" is now -- the middle of a grinding recession that is forcing the state to choose between local aid for schools, teachers and firefighters or essential human services. Transportation is an afterthought in this mess.

I'm not sure I can give Grabauskas a clean pass. Yes, he was working with tied hands, but:
... the state underestimated the agency’s expenses by $558 million between 2000 and 2008, he wrote, because of unrealistic projections for operating costs that were outside the T’s control.

For example, the original plan left no money for workers’ health care cost increases, even though they grew by 73 percent in the first eight years. The T, the state’s largest electricity customer, saw fuel and utility costs more than double over the same period.

A good manager doesn't just throw up his hands and say sorry when he is given crap to work with.

The problem today is the years of neglect are showing up in frequent breakdowns, fires and gropers. That makes the system even less inviting to ride for all but those who have no other way to get to work.

And then there is the reliability of service on a system where buses and trolleys seem to run in pairs for their own safety.

Patrick's challengers are likely to blame him. But for a governor who has already pretty much tipped his hand that he plans to run against the Legislature, this is just another arrow in the quiver.

And in the meantime, good luck to the rest of us.

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