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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

We're doomed!

If you thought the MBTA has problems now just wait: the Legislature plans to investigate the cause of this winter's delays and disruptions.

Yep, the Great and General Court plans to bring the focus of its Senate post audit and oversight and joint transportation committee onto the problems that have plagued the system this winter and come up with recommendations on how to fix them.

Here's a word to the wise: don't sit up on Beacon Hill and listen to bureaucrats offer apologies and excuses. Ride the system yourself.

Let's start with a basic question: how many lawmakers know what it costs to ride a bus or subway or commuter rail train -- or what it costs to park at an MBTA lot?

After you figure that out, try to catch an early morning commuter rail from Franklin of Worcester, then jam into a Green Line or Red Line car to get to the Statehouse on time. Then do it again at night.

Experience the regular fires caused by a lack of maintenance, whether it involves track switches or dirty stations where the trash piles up. Or ride the overcrowded buses that always arrive in two and threes, followed by lengthy waits (which were often at unshoveled stops this winter). Get irritated by a lack of adequate information about delays.

And then stop to think why you avoid public transportation on a regular basis, probably with the excuse offered by former T boss Dan Grabauskas that the schedule wasn't convenient to his working hours.

After all that, it will become blatantly obvious. The system suffers from a lack of resources, largely because of sporadic legislative interest that follows benign neglect.

The commuter rail problems today are largely the result of an aging locomotive fleet, a problem exacerbated two years ago when Grabauskas delayed purchasing new engines because the system couldn't afford it. Track and station maintenance? Ditto.

A big part of the revenue problems stems from the Legislature's last "solution," earmarking a penny on the sales tax to pay for a system that previously had been "forward funded," meaning it could spend pretty much what it wanted and present an invoice to lawmakers.

Offered an opportunity to fix that two years ago, by raising the gasoline tax to fund the T as well as needed bridge and road repairs, lawmakers opted instead for adding 1.25 cents onto the sales tax, a move that has obviously proven inadequate to meet the increased needs caused by the Great Recession.

So here we are back again talking about problems on the T -- without the ways or means to fix them. Talk about a vicious circle.

Spare us the circus of hearings that will lead nowhere -- and about as quickly as a rush hour commute.

CORRECTION: Thanks to reader Karl C. who noted I got forward funding backward.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The T is always ready with excuses, and claims by management to take responsibility. Whenever something happens, the trot one of each out for a public display, but have you ever seen anything done? Has anything ever improved? Has anyone ever taken responsibility? Just saying so doesn't make it so. OK, so the system is old, and fraught with unattended maintenance, but why did that train sit for hours without informing riders what was happening, and why couldn't they have another engine pick it up? That just never seems to get answered. People have to lose jobs. That's taking responsibility. They have to learn that this is what happens when you fail to perform the fundamentals of your job.

So now, the legislature is going to study the problem. Right, that's the ticket. A big waste of time is what it will be.

March 08, 2011 8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way out here in Western Mass can you explain to me why this should be my problem. I've riden something run by the T once in the last 5 years. Are you looking for my taxes to fix something that I get no benefit from. Yah,Yah you'll fix roads and bridges at the same time, but there are roads and bridges in Boston to fix. It will become a vacumn for money to fix something that on a state level not everyone uses. Special tax for all cities and towns that have T connections.

March 08, 2011 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because Western MA is subsidized by the Eastern part of the state including in road and transportation funds. You really do not want to get into the tit for tat. If the eastern part kept all the money it put into state coffers and did not send money to western, ma including local aid, it would not work out well for you. That is why we are a Commonwealth.

March 08, 2011 12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live on a dirt road with my own well. Cut things off, what am I going to miss?

March 08, 2011 12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fire, police, schools etc. I mean really. You take dirt roads to work? Shop? Etc. Grow up

March 08, 2011 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't think that cities serviced by the T should pay higher for that service?

March 08, 2011 12:46 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Just a note of correction, MLiberal, the system was previously "backwards funded". As of the 2000 funding change, it became "forward funded", not the other way around.

"Backwards funding" was considered to be where the MBTA spent whatever it wanted and the state paid the difference at the end of the year (backwards) between how much the Authority actually spent and how much the State dedicated for the Authority in the State's last year's budget.

"Forwards funding" was the term for the "penny of the nickel" revenue stream that would supposedly fund (forwards) all of the non-system revenue needed for the year.

You got it backwards (instead of forwards ;) in your blog entry.

March 08, 2011 3:18 PM  

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