[with apologies to the Onion]
As we round into the election season, we get to appraise the success of Governor Baker’s reforms at the MBTA. Are things better, three years after inheriting a weather-exacerbated crisis in early 2015? We know they’ve been trying really hard.
What happened Wednesday? Was it a track problem? A motor failure? A derailment? It was the hat trick, friends:
Regular service has resumed after a derailment led to smoky conditions and confusion Wednesday morning on the MBTA’s Red Line.
The last car of a six-car train derailed as it entered Andrew Station around 9:20 a.m., then “re-railed itself” before it stopped, according to MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo.
Initially, the MBTA said it was a track problem, but then said it was a motor failure that led to the issue. In a press release Wednesday afternoon, the MBTA called the incident a derailment. Pesaturo later clarified all three things happened Wednesday morning.
But wait, there’s more: A two-hour delay due to a drainpipe falling on an Orange Line train.
And it seems that the Governor’s teflon may be wearing a bit. State House News’s Matt Murphy seems to notice that the chief executive (who doesn’t ride the rails himself) has been at it a while now, and the results are just not there. From Friday’s emailed commentary (always recommended):
Gov. Charlie Baker has been methodically consolidating power in his Republican Party, trying to slather an impenetrable veneer around his so far stealthy re-election campaign. Not even the GOP’s political ties to a disgraced Steve Wynn or the daily gripes of commuters about overcrowded and delayed trains have seemed to leave a dent.
But someday, that good will could all go up in a smoke-filled T station. Could that day have been Wednesday?
MBTA malfunctions have become so commonplace that a push-alert to a T rider’s cellphone about another disabled train barely seems to register anymore, but when a Red Line train derailed Wednesday morning as it approached Andrew Station, damaging 300 feet of third rail and causing windows to shatter and smoke to fill the station, it registered.
The question, politically, is whether empathy from the governor is enough. Baker was right when he said the most important thing was that no one was hurt in the accident, but the governor’s opponents are hoping that silver linings and patience in the public will start to wear thin.
“We’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in those core system upgrades, and a couple years from now, you’re going to have basically new cars on the Red Line, new cars on the Orange Line, new signals and switches on both systems, new cars and a very different system than the one we have now, but in the meantime, I get the fact that what riders had to put up with yesterday was unacceptable,” Baker said.
Newton’s Setti Warren, one of three Democrats running for governor this year, said “enough is enough.” While no new governor would be able to fix the T overnight, Warren’s argument is that Baker has squandered his chance.
What riders had to put up with [Wednesday] … a phrase that could only come from someone trying very hard not to acknowledge the frustration, and the enormity of the challenge. Some version of this is a daily experience. (Marty Walsh, inexplicably, is nearly as disconnected, when we could really use some fiery advocacy from the Mayor.) And the Governor trying to distract attention by pointing to supposed improvements “a couple of years from now” is laughably inadequate. Baker took office in 2015. “A couple of years” from then … is now. The rent is due.
What’s been missing? Money, which comes from that ineffable, mysterious thing called political will. Says Jim Aloisi:
Since the 2015 winter meltdown, sincere efforts have been made to improve the system, utilizing the limited revenue resources available to the T. But that has proven inadequate, not because of bad intentions but because the resources are woefully insufficient. We are spending more than ever on the backlog of state-of-good-repair work, but not nearly enough and not quickly enough. What is painfully clear is this: we need to significantly accelerate our state of good repair work. The only way to do that is to generate the additional funding necessary to attract and hire the qualified resources to get the job done on an accelerated schedule.
Baker, as we’ve mentioned, is floating another transportation funding commission — sometime after the election. Try to contain your exultation.
Don’t allow our political leaders off the hook. They’ll always say it’s someone else’s problem, or it couldn’t be helped, or it’ll get magically better in the future without them having to take any political risks. That’s what the Massachusetts State House is great at: Passing the buck. That’s the Big Dig Culture — still standing after lo these many years.
So the next time you’re stranded at a T stop — maybe smelling that electrical-fire smell, or waiting to be herded onto shuttle buses like a slow caravan across the Sahara; missing your appointments, or late to work, or to the day care, or a date — give Charlie Baker a call at 617-725-4005. And call your state rep at 617-722-2000 (switchboard); I know Bob DeLeo doesn’t particularly care about T riders, but if enough reps get an earful maybe he’ll care a little bit more.
For now, it’s all I got. Accountability is political. It’s set up that way.