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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Patches and plugs"

The proposed MBTA fare hikes are exactly what people hate most about government: higher costs without a permanent fix.

The 23 percent fare hike, combined with some service cuts, is bad enough. Some estimates suggest commuter rail fares could rise $74 a month, while weekend schedules on some lines would be eliminated. Fares for The Ride, a service for the handicapped, would double.

But worst of all the proposal, built on $61 million in yet-more one-time fixes, is simply kicking the can down the road for yet one more year.

At least Deval Patrick, whose silence has been notable throughout this process, didn't mince words in describing the product of endless public hearings "patches and plugs." In masterful understatement, he added:
“This is neither a permanent nor a comprehensive solution."
Nope. It is a plan to designed to push the issue off until after the November elections. And if it that wasn't obvious enough, House Transportation Committee Chairman William Straus put it out in neon lights when he tried to throw Patrick under the bus, declaring it was the chief executive's responsibility to offer a permanent fix:
“The fact that he had one unsuccessful at-bat, so to speak, on the issue doesn’t take him out of the lineup,’’ he said. “We’re still looking forward to his next time up at the plate . . . to see what we as a group can accomplish.’’
Patrick, who proposed a comprehensive transportation package, including a gasoline tax hike to pay for the T as well as road and bridge repairs in 2009, didn't take the bait and threw it back at lawmakers:
“They’re going to have to be receptive to something."
Lawmakers own a large piece of blame for the problem by tying the can of Big Dig debt onto the MBTA, then offering an inadequate fix to the problem. They have consistently turned a deaf ear to fixing and funding the state's broader transportation issues -- like potholed roads and crumbling bridges. And we have the clear looming war between those living in the MBTA district and those who do not over how to fix the multitude of problems.

Patrick has not been a profile in courage during this soap opera. But he looks positively engaged compared to lawmakers who created the problem and have behaved like ostriches ever since.

And to a large percentage of voters, that's even worse than paying higher taxes.

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Blogger Paul Levy said...

Exactly right. What legislators forget is that a malfunctioning transit systems is as much a tax on their constituents as a direct tax -- in terms of excessive time spent getting to work or even the need to buy a car because you can't get to work on the T. Poor service also leaves people without access to potential jobs, resulting higher unemployment rates, inability of employers to fill positions, and a drag on the economy.

March 29, 2012 6:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About that gas tax...

"As a Toyota-driving, MBTA-riding Massachusetts resident it works for me. I will continue to walk as much as I can and take my Corolla (35 mpg highway) where I cannot.

The gas tax is the ultimate in user fees -- something no less a free market conservative like (at least last time we looked) Mitt Romney believes in. Drive less -- or something more fuel efficient -- and pay less. Economics 101."

- Massachusetts Liberal, 2/21/09

I guess this fare hike doesn't "work for you."

Probably works for Joe.

March 29, 2012 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Commenter #2: I don't think you're really on topic.

Outraged Liberal isn't complaining about cost increases. He's calling out the state government for saddling the MBTA with debt it can't support and then doing nothing to fix it because they'd rather avoid a hard decision in an election year.

The MBTA benefits more than just its riders (more available parking downtown, less pollution, less traffic etc). It is therefore fair to have non-users pay something for it.

Furthermore, a gas tax has many positive impacts beyond revenue generation. It gives people an incentive to drive less and move closer to cities/places of work. This has public health and city planning benefits, to name just two.

Increasing fares for public transit does not encourage any similar good behavior. It discourages bad behavior--whether you use it or not.

March 29, 2012 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe it's time to reconsider the necessity of big cities. They used to have a pupose as centers of commerce and government. In the internet age do we need large overpriced accumulations of people? Put the headquarters of the state functions, water, highway out in the less populated areas and they're cheaper and what would be the downside? Utilize internet conferencing.

March 29, 2012 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 10:26,

While the fare hike wasn't the chief complaint, it was certainly bemoaned.

Massachusetts Liberal has no problem defining himself as a user of the MBTA, and further has no qualms about calling out those who do not use public transit when their costs increase.

There was no railing against the "comprehensive transportation package" that included the 19 cent gas tax - and shifted these MBTA costs to those who use the system less - if at all.

Your comment about "bad behavior" is ridiculous. Equally absurd is the recommendation that we all move "closer to where we work." What's close? Would it be okay with you if I lived in Quincy and worked in Haverhill, or Providence, so long as I used the MBTA to get from point A to point B? I hope we're not talking too close, because I'd hate to have to ask my employer to move somewhere a little less pricey.

I'll add to Anon 11:59's point about the diminishing necessity of big cities: large, overpriced populations of people who believe that the world ends at their borders.

March 30, 2012 12:24 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Just to be clear: I"m going to pay the higher fares through my monthly pass -- which my employer wisely subsidizes to help keep cars out of its overcrowded parking lots. And I would pay higher gasoline taxes when I use my car.

I don't like it because the T service is lousy and will get worse but I believe in paying my fair share, particularly when I use services.

March 31, 2012 5:50 AM  

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