MBTA card

^ changing the way MBTA fares are paid, so that $ 42 million a year doesn’t disappear

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If there’s anything about Governor Baker that frustrates many people, it’s his caution. Impulsive, he is not. In a hurry, never. In the matter of the transgender rights public accommodations bill now pending, caution has buffeted him — has irked me too. Yet caution usually serves Baker well. He plays the long game, which is the only game that outlasts the dogged resistance of vested interests needing major reform. One thinks of public schools budgets.

Fixing the MBTA will be a long game. This we already knew. Every month seems to uncover yet another money sinkhole. Add fare collection misfeasance to the rest. One problem after another — for the Fiscal Control board, the day to day process management, the T employees’ Pension fund directors. What will be next ?

If the reports are true — that fare collection failure costs the T about $ 42 million — it’s obviously a crisis as serious as management failures highlighted at DCF. How does $ 42 million of rider fares go uncollected ? If I recall, in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,” the solution to the crime turns on the impossibility of a rider entering  London subway carriage without a ticket. That was more than 100 years ago. How is it that in 2016, in Boston, $ 42 million of fares can enter a bus, subway, or commuter rail without a paid ticket ?

On the commuter rail, conductors collect — or do not collect — fares. Why do we depend on on-board fare collectors ? Why can’t it be as difficult to enter a commuter train without paying first as it is for the subway ? Same goes for the buses. The driver collects fares. Why should he or she have to do this ? it’s hard enough to drive a big bus through Boston traffic without one’s having to monitor the fare payment of every passenger boarding.

Why can’t the T expand its “Charlie card” program to embrace all T fares ? Make “Add value” to your card the only way to pay. Enter train, bus or subway, swipe your card. If there’s “no enough value” on it, you do not board.

It seems actually that this reform is on the way. Read the story I have linked here :

The “conductors” on board commuter trains can be put to work caring for passengers’ needs and comfort. Install free wi-fi in every commuter car, school the “conductors” to be basic tech support people. Let the “conductors” keep the wi-fi online. That would be a far more useful application of their work time than fare collection.

It will doubtless take a long time to establish this work rule change, not to mention the systems installations required. There will surely be opposition every step of the way — because change is difficult, as said John McDonough, Boston’s excellent interim schools superintendent. McDonough played the long game : radical reform, taken one seemingly simple step at a time. That is Governor baker’s method, too. It’s the only way. Bring about huge change in steps so small that one hardly notices the difference in each. They add up, though ! Continents change enormously, don ‘t they ? It takes millions of years, but they alter completely. That is how the baker tactic approaches reform. It may seem sleepy, or boring; but over the extent of its time, it isn’t boring at all. It is enormous transformation.

And now to fix the MBTA Employees’ pension fund, which seemingly over-promises, only to fall prey to disappointments that cost the taxpayer. The reports say the shortfall, is $ 8 million a year. Of taxpayer money., required because T employees contribute a mere five and a half percent (5.5 %) of the required pension fund pay-ins.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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