^ Governor Baker and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack watch as new Orange Line cars get delivered

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Governor Baker’s office recently announced two significant improvements to our region’s transit services : first, new orange Line cars are starting to arrive for service — much needed to replace cars almost 40 years old and just about finished. Second, the MBTA’s Fiscal Control Board will be asked to approve a $ 720,000,000 installation of an al-electronic fare collection system that will, hopefully, eliminate fare jumping and make collection of fares just about fail safe.

You can read the Baker administration’s full report on “T” improvements here :

These are good advances. Same can be said for the recently announced $ 1 billion savings won by Baker’s MBTA administrators for the cost of extending the Green Line. Nonetheless, fixing the “T” remains a challenge, because Boston’s population continues to grow, placing a non-stop burden on “T” service even as improved :

( 1 ) more people living in the City itself mean more “T” riders and more hours of operation. Today, the “T” shuts down between one ABM and five AM. That likely cannot continue. It’s already a large inconvenience.

( 2 ) extending the Green Line and adding more trains means more use of electric power. Yet Eversource’s planned new substations in the City have drawn significant opposition.

( 3 ) the need for added electric power will only grow, as the proposed electronic fare collection system is installed (if approved) and as further transit extensions — connecting Blue Line to Red, extending the Blue Line to Lynn, expanding the Silver Line to Chelsea and connecting it to the Blue Line — win budget allocation and go into service five to ten years from now.

( 4 ) electric power shortages will also increase as the Pilgrim nuclear power plant is shut down in 2019.

( 5 ) strong opposition to increasing our area’s natural gas supply via pipelines portends no relief from that power source either.

( 6 ) as more Boston newcomers opt not to own cars, ridership on the “T” will; increase even more than anticipated, imposing a burden on scarce electric power beyond the impacts I have listed above.

Transit service seems the transportation method that most people will use in the coming decades, more so than bicycles, perhaps as common as cars and trucks. If Boston in year 2030 contains 750,000 to 850,000 people — an increase of 100,000 to 200,000 from our 1970 population — both transit and the electric power that moves it will have to increase accordingly. Cars of the future will also use more electricity and less gas. Where is all of this added power supply to come from, if not from expanded Eversource substations and transmission lines ?

Then there’s the money factor. The State’s budget is already squeezed toward deficit status by the huge health care cost burden left to us by Washington’s refusal to continue subsidizing the State’s largest budget item — some 40 percent of our $ 40 billion total expenditure. How are we going to pay the approximately $ 5 billion to $ 6 billion of upgrades needed to bring the full “T” system up to “state of good repair” ? You might answer : the two-tier tax initiative to be voted at the 2018 election earmarks its revenue to transportation (and education). Perhaps; but the legislature has never carried out voters’ earmarks, and I am skeptical it will do so now.

As I see it, the FY 2019 state budget will need to add at least $ 2,000,000,000 to the usual “T” budget, and the same seems the case for FY 2020, 2021, and 2022 as well. Where will the money come from ? The legislature is not ready to raise voters’ tax burden, nor is the Governor likely to become a tax increaser.

There are two options; but I don’t foresee either of them coming to pass any time soon :

First, we could raise the minimum wage to $ 15/hour, thereby changing 500,000 minimum wage earners from EITC (earned income tax credit) recipients to actual tax payers. Or, we could allocate some of the two-tier tax initiative’s education earmark to transportation instead. Neither option seems likely, which means that the costs of improving “T” service for our expanded population won’t be met; which means that “T” service will not meet commuters’; coming needs. Which means the Boston economic boom bumps up against a bottleneck that can only be by-passed, not resolved, by increasing the amount of “T” operation done by private contractors with every incentive to skimp on quality and to pay their employees skimpy wages: which are the opposite of what we should be doing.

I will be most interested to find out what the legislature’s answer is to these riddles. Also the Governor’s.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sp0here


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