^ Governor Baker swearing in four members of the MBTA FIscal Control Board. Time now to give them the funds they need to expand, not cut back, T service

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For the past eleven months all of the MBTA focus has aimed at reform of operations. Governor baker proposed, and, after a brief contretemps, the legislature disposed. Two governing boards answerable to the Governor now oversee the T and manage its day to day work.

The Fiscal Control Board has accomplished much, the operations division even more. It is now a given that T expenditures must meet the test of “a dollar of value for a dollar spent” and that track and signals must work even in record snowfalls of a winter, that trains must leave and arrive “on time.” that Commuter rail fares be fully collected, and that bus trips not be missed except for very good cause.

The mantra of T reform was “reform before revenue” — again, for very good reason. The taxpaying public, before being asked to pony up added funds, needed to know that T management was serious about enforcing diligent performance by T employees and exacting budget oversight by T managers. More remains to be done, but the principle now rules, and the emergency work that remains — signal repair above all — is on a known schedule for completion.

If the T is go farther, it now needs that new revenue we have withheld. There is no avoiding this. It is intolerable to read the Fiscal Control Board calling for service cuts because the money isn’t there. T service should expand, not contract. In particular, the Green Line extension from Lechmere to West Medford must finish. Somerville and Medford have committed their city planning to it; their residents deserve its benefits.

Late night service also deserves to continue. Its riders are few, sure; but what major busy city stops its public transit at all ? The T says that it needs four hours of down time to do track maintenance ? Then use vans, as the T does for senior citizens using “the Ride.” There is no reason whatsoever not to do this. Why else was T management given the power — after much brouhaha — to outsource certain T services ?

The Fiscal Control Board notes that current  T services work a large dollar deficit : fares and community contributions fall multi-millions of dollars short of paying the T’s labor and equipment obligations. But that is how it is with public transit. If operating the T paid for itself, there;’d be no need for it to be a taxpayer assessment. We ask taxpayers to pay the T’s expenses because the economic benefit of having an inexpensive, efficient transport system overrides its cost.

The T is said to require over $ 7 billion to complete repair and upgrading of the entire system, rapid transit buses, and commuter rail. The sooner we budget that money — and assess it — the better and fairer our economic future looks. (If we hesitate, the fix it dollars will increase.) Add to this sum more billions needed to complete Green Line expansion; consider also the costs of linking the Silver Line to the Blue Line in East Boston and the Red Line to the Blue Line. We need to commit to every one of these projects and do so now.

The question of a North Station to South Station AMTRAK and Commuter rail link awaits as well. Should it be built, at a cost of maybe $ 2 billion, or shouldn’t it ? Unless there is more T revenue, the discussion ends.

The Governor presents his FY 2017 budget to the legislature next Spring. It ought to propose significant additional funds for T operation.

There’s another reason why it should do this : on the ballot in 2018 will be a proposal to establish a “millionaires tax,” a surcharge on incomes over that amount, the proceeds of which are designated for transportation and education. We all know that no ballot initiative can bind the legislature’s appropriation preferences, which renders this initiative puzzling.

Yet if the ballot initiative passes — and it will — the revenue will be there. Better by far for Governor Baker to get ahead of its curve by seeking more revenue according to his transportation priorities and performance standards, so that he can accomplish what he wants done, rather than surrender the policy initiative to others (and they are there, trust me), and in the year of his re-election, no less.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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