Silver Line

^ Silver Line, from Airport to South Station. How about a link from the Airport direct to East Boston ?

—- —- —- —-

Last year Governor Baker made clear that his strategy for fixing the T would be “reform before revenue.” For me, the “reform before” period is closer to end than beginning; which means that the period “new revenue” is knocking on the door.

I wish the Fiscal Control Board (FCB), responsible for T reforms, saw it that way. As Pioneer Institute4’s Jim Stergios pointed out in a Boston Globe op-ed today, the FCB has put the prospect, directly, of cutting T services to save money. Like Stergios, I find that a cut too far. The T cannot discard the services it offers to the public. The T is not a business, it is a public utility. Its services are needed by the public, and wanted by us; and providing them is a basic responsibility of the state.

I don’t want to belabor this basic point. Suffice to say that riders depend on the T to get to work, to entertainments, even to visit friends. T service is aff0rdable by almost everyone. That is how it should be. We pay for T service, a ride should not cost us much. Should there be a fare increase ? Probably, yes. Less of the T’s cost should be paid by taxpayers than now; riders must have skin in the game. But again, that is not the point I wish to make.

My concern is that the MBTA continue to accomplish three goals : repair its infrastructure and equipment; rationalize its union contracts; and expand its services to cover at least projects already under way, as well as a few still in the mention stage : of which the creation of a direct Blue Line to Silver Link seems to me a priority. I would also like to see a Blue Line – Red Line link as well as Orange Line extension to Needham.

My friend John Vitagliano likes to point out that in twenty years commute by public transit is expected to double. How can that happen, if we do not upgrade present infrastructure to safety grade ? How again, if we do not expand rapid transit to cover all of the close-by suburbs ? One other need begs for attention : cross-City routes. Today, if a rider wishes to go from Dorchester to Brookline, or from Jamaica plain to Quincy, for example, she has to plan at least four transfers en route — and set aside two hours or more for the trip. There needs to be a faster way of transporting commuters across the radial lines from a center which hold our present transit system in thrall.

To me, this means bus lines on which several sizes of bus do their routes. Not all routes require the big bus. Some can use the mini, or even a van. Perhaps the T can assemble and budget a sort of Uber system. Unfortunately, all of these will be using the present road system : hardly a call to rapidity. Which brings me to a more radical suggestion : tiers of roadways; or, perhaps, tiers of pathways of varying size.

The T needs also to think transit by water. Ferries now operate from Hingham, Quincy, and Salem. As the upscale building boom continues in the Seaport District and in East Boston, for example, it is surely time to cost out ferry systems from these new population zones to Downtown, Charlestown, and the Mystic River.

These new methods and vehicle types will occasion new MBTA hires. Perhaps that will be time to negotiate a new contract with the Carmen, or with a different union for the new hires, in which overtime loo0pholes cannot create wage jackpots or sick day hoards. Several reforms come to mind : one, sick days, if not used within a one year window, go away; two, contract arbitrations must be subject to approval by the legislature; three, no hours per week can be eligible for overtime unless the worker has already accumulated forty hours, in that week, of regular time — Sunday and Holiday work the only exception; four, the MBTA pension system must merge into the regular State Employees pension fund.

T workers have every right to earn their very generous base pay; but they should have no right to scoop up bonanzas that other public employees never see.

The public is, I think, almost ready to trust the T again and thus to grant it the substantial new revenue it needs to (1) reduce its huge debt burden (2) complete Green Line expansion once the project is re-contracted (3) commence project planning for the more ambitious expansions I have outlined and which will take at least a decade. maybe two, to commit to in the best of political circumstances. Let’s not forget that T expansion also means more transit police hires, new driver training; better equipment at delivery, so that expensive maintenance costs don’t get passed on to us by the manufacturer; environmental impact review that doesn’t ask for green perfection at any cost; janitorial services at T stations, and on T lines, that doesn’t require a late night service shut down; charlie card purchase boxes that aren’t out of order half the time; wi-fi service on all commuter rail lines and buses; and heat panels inside open-air T and bus terminals (I think especially of Haymarket, open to the northeast cold wind and weather.)

New revenue will be required for all of this, even for part; and probably sooner rather than later. Gas taxes, anyone ?

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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