Fixing the MBTA - Diving Into Some Numbers, Talking Transportation As An Investment, Transit Around The World and Finding Cash Flow

Serious wonk post. But that's what is required for this problem. - promoted by david

With the recent performance of the MBTA during these record snowfalls, coupled with the recently announced departure of the MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott, I took it upon myself to dig more into some of the numbers that got us here to see what sort of options there were for us to get out, while spending some time looking at other transit systems around the world to see how Boston stacks up.

The D’Alessandro Review

A first point of reference is the D’Alessandro MBTA Review commissioned by Gov. Patrick in 2009. It offers a great breakdown of the history for Forward Funding through 2009 and the major areas that impacted the MBTA during that period. Of course as D’Alessandro commented in The Globe, he never got a call from anyone on Beacon Hill about this report, showing you how seriously our elected officials actually take the T.

Let’s start with a quick run-down of the D’Alessandro findings about the T’s costs:

Curtatone on the folly of neglecting the MBTA

This is about getting to our jobs. Is there anything more fundamental than that? - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

In Common Wealth Magazine, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone made the case for why the MBTA matters to all of Massachusetts. Nice to see a political leader come out and say it. He put it in fairly stark terms:

Greater Boston represents the lion’s share of economic activity in Massachusetts. The money for schools, healthcare, and roads throughout the state largely comes from the tax base of Greater Boston. If Boston fails to deliver economically, the knock-on effects will be felt in every corner of Massachusetts.

He didn’t play up the standard line about economic justice or how a functional MBTA gets essential health and safety workers to their jobs (all true). Instead he focused on the ability of metro Boston to attract and retain business with a substandard public transit system. He wrote:

This breakdown sounds a clear warning that the reliability of our economic engine has become suspect. Think about what the MBTA and commuter rail do at the most fundamental level: they connect people to their jobs. … This is about as simple an issue as you will ever encounter in the public arena. If we won’t make the necessary investments to keep our economic center viable, then why should the private sector invest its money?

It will be interesting to see if various chambers of commerce and business associations (e.g. the Massachusetts High Technology Council) make this an issue. If Governor Baker and Speaker DeLeo are going to be spurred into action by anyone, it’s going to be business leaders telling them “Your crappy transit system is costing me money.”

Is Snow a Game Changer in Mass Politics? State Reps Better Watch Their Backs - Tsarnaev Venue + O'Brien Appeal + John Connolly Getting Out = Moakley Couthouse a Joke

Ernie poses an excellent question re Tsarnaev: if this case doesn't warrant a change of venue, what case does? - promoted by david

Bravo for Beverly Scott. She said “f#ck Boston, I ain’t sticking around just so you can kick the ever living sh!t out of me everyday until I leave. F#ck you you frauds.” Or something like that. [edited to keep our PG-13 rating -ed.]

Anyhoo I have a message for the reps and senators who are still living in the past. You better watch your backs. You too Speaker Deleo. Too bad your father didn’t work for the MBTA.

Every morning and every afternoon hundreds and thousands of your constituents are having the unhealthiest almost psychotic anger towards their state government.

And now the Speaker is telling them that no new revenues are needed to fix this creation of underfunding.

Instead you stuff casinos down their throats because that’s what Bobby wanted. Now and forever Vegas will have local revenue to spend on Beacon Hill. First up, Steve Wynn. That stinks.

And of course you guys had no problem giving Bobby the extended plan.

Now the problem is magnified. Every time there is a breakdown or a late bus the conversation will turn to the suckiness of the T and the gluttons on Beacon Hill who are more interested in getting their friends no-show jobs.

You could have an opponent Bobby. One with gusto. All those people busing it to Orient Heights and then taking the Blue Line. Not good Bobby, not good.

Not for nothing but if the Tsarnaev case is not one that deserves a change of venue then what the hell is? Really.

Don’t be surprised if it gets moved and Judge O’Toole has to start all over again. The federal appeals court is all over it.

The Speaker Spoke Today

The unindicted co-conspirator speaks. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Speaker DeLeo addressed the House membership today to let them know his priorities. Comments as prepared for publication here.

If you read them, you’ll see that the Speaker is ruling out tax increases in 2015. Because any bills to change tax laws have to originate in the House, that’s a lot of nails in the revenue coffin for the coming year.

But that’s only one of the topics he discusses. BMG Hive Mind, have at it.

The Speaker did not announce his decisions about committee chairpersonships and other leadership matters today, as had been expected. Which means that those of us who think that the representatives who voted in favor of maintaining the term limits that Speaker DeLeo once advocated ought not to be punished for their votes can register that opinion with the Speaker: The Democrats voting to keep term limits (all the Republicans voted to maintain term limits): Ayers, DiNatale, DiZoglio, Dwyer, Dykema, Hecht, Provost, Rogers, J., Rosa, Timilty. Some of these reps probably did not vote to keep the Speaker’s term limits on the ground of their progressive principles, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

MBTA chief Beverly Scott to step down

OK then. Your move, Charlie. - promoted by david

Per the Boston Globe

 

Beverly Scott is resigning as general manager of the MBTA.

Scott had come under fire from Governor Baker for the performance of the system during recent storms.

In a letter of resignation to the MassDOT Board of Directors, Scott did not give a specific reason for the resignation, and said “it has been an absolute pleasure and honor to serve with and lead this dedicated team of transit professionals and public servants.”

John Jenkins, chairman of the MassDOT Board of Directors, said that he was “stunned” by Scott’s resignation.

“Be clear, this Board has had no discussions at any time about her tenure as General Manager,” Jenkins said in a statement. “We hoped and expected that she would fulfill her three year contract, which ends in December of this year. I want to thank Dr. Scott for her skillful and committed leadership over the last 26 months, and wish her the very best as she moves on to her next challenge.”

 

 

 

Quasi-privatize the T

Yesterday’s MBTA collapse, which shut down our economy, cost us tens of millions of dollars, and created cautionary headlines for anyone trying to draw students, businesses, or Olympic athletes to Boston — let alone get to and from work and school! — is just a dramatic reminder of what T users have known for decades: our public transportation system, once the envy of the world, is inadequate and deterioriating. It will require perhaps $13 billion in investment to pay down its staggering debt and restore it to a world standard.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The essential problem of the T is its current organizational structure, which insulates it from market accountability while simultaneously exposing it to harebrained schemes like Charlie Baker’s 2000 plan to lumber it with $3 billion in debt, $1.7 billion for the unrelated Big Dig road project, and his current proposal to cut its funding further — because current performance is apparently adequate from a financial perspective. (The spectacle of Baker fulminating about “unacceptable” service while having played a large role in creating the disaster, and simultaneously trying to cut the T’s budget, is entertaining in its incoherence, but I digress).

Hong Kong has a much better structure, and a much better mass transit system. The Mass Transit Railway there is controlled by the government, which is its largest shareholder, but is a public company listed on the stock exchange. It has total assets of about $257 billion, annual revenue of about $4 billion, and made about $2 billion in profits last year. The company owns and operates the mass transit system in Hong Kong, and has additional operations in the United Kingdom, Australia, China, and Sweden. It makes most of its profits by developing real estate around the transportation hubs it builds, creating a virtuous circle between transportation and community development. Critically, although it is controlled by the government, which is appropriate for a key infrastructure monopoly, it is organized as a business, which allows it to access global capital markets to raise investment funds, attract and retain skilled staff, and explore new revenue areas in an entrepreneurial manner. It was established in 1975, when Hong Kong started to build its subway system (it is now far larger than the T). That is the kind of venture that can attract the kind of capital the T needs, and provide sustained performance. And it can happen in our lifetimes.

Fundamental changes are required at the T. The chance that the organization as presently constituted can raise anywhere near $13 billion, from the legislature or anywhere else, is slim to zero. But even if it did, the same problems that have reduced the system from a model to a tragedy would still apply. There is a better way. We should embrace it.

Dear Governor Baker: the starting premise should be "the MBTA has to work"

Here’s Governor Charlie Baker at his press conference yesterday, discussing the woes of the MBTA and how to avoid them next time:

“We need to start from the premise the taxpayers have been taxed enough,” he said, speaking to reporters at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

All due respect, Governor, that’s dead wrong.  We need to start from the premise that the MBTA has to work.  We’ve seen over the last week or so what it means when the MBTA craps out.  Thousands of commuters unable to get to work.  Thousands more standing around on freezing cold platforms waiting for a train that may never come, or if it does, it’s so crowded that they can’t get on.  People stuck on trains for hours because their ancient motors don’t work when it’s cold, or when it snows.  It’s bad for people, it’s bad for business, it’s bad for the economy, it’s bad for Massachusetts.  It’s simply not acceptable.

So.  What that means in terms of management fixes, improved efficiencies, and all the other magical no-new-taxes hand-waving that you say you’ve got up your sleeve in terms of making the T work, I don’t know – that’s your department.  But you simply must be open to the possibility that all of those clever bookkeeping maneuvers will not be enough to bring the MBTA to an acceptable level of functionality.  The state may need to take over the MBTA’s debt so that it isn’t perpetually chasing its tail.  And, yes, more revenue may be necessary.

Charley said it right: this could be Baker’s Nixon-to-China moment.  If Charlie Baker, Mr. No New Taxes, faced with an unprecedented collapse of public transportation, makes the case for new revenue to fix the problem, the legislature will go along despite Bob DeLeo’s allergy to new revenues.  But whatever the solution, Baker needs to find one.  If he doesn’t, his governorship will be a failure.

Because the MBTA has to work.

Scot Lehigh Says Blizzard of '78 Was Tougher to Clean Up Than The Three Storms We've Had. HMMM

I tend to agree that Lehigh's comparisons to the Blizzard of '78 are silly - and, if anything, show the city's efforts this year in a good light. 1978 was one really really bad storm. This is multiple bad storms with very little time in between. Yet, in 1978, the city was shut down for two weeks, for heaven's sake. Also, some MBTA equipment (Red Line in particular) that was running in 1978 is still running today, but it was almost 40 years younger then. - promoted by david

Scot Lehigh was bitching and moaning about Mayor walsh today like a true soft handed elitist because all the snow hasn’t been removed yet. (Really, between you and I he’s just one of many local “journalists” who wish him to fail and are waiting for opportunities to knock Walsh because he beat their guy)

So during his usual unimaginative and longwinded column today he spits this out:

Granted, we’ve had a record amount of snow, but it hasn’t been of the heavy, high-wind-driven, impossible-to-keep-up-with, Blizzard of ’78 variety.

Scott, were you here in ’78?  We had 27 inches in a day and a half. Lots of wind and yes it was heavy snow. But the state closed down for two weeks. Two straight weeks of snow days followed by the February vacation. Three starlight weeks.

The National Guard was called out to help remove the snow. BTW Why did it take Charlie so long to order Guard and ITS EQUIPMENT to help out?

Coastal flooding caused much damage in the usual neighborhoods and some others. Unfortunately 40 plus people died in their cars on 128.

And no deliveries, remember? Shelves were bare a good week and gradually came back. There was no milk, no bread, no ice cream, no toilet paper, no tuna fish, no eggs, no Boscoe. That storm was like the Depression is to the old folks. After you experience it you want to make sure you are prepared. Thus every storm since supermarkets make a quick score.

So this was 27 inches in 18 hours. It took two weeks before anything was worth getting to.

I’m pretty sure the T closed.

Here we’ve had over 60 inches in 13 days. The first storm was classified as a blizzard.  Since saturday we’ve had over 20 inches and we had a big storm in between. We’ve also had blistering cold temperatures the past few weeks. The record books don’t lie about the amount of snow we’ve had.

Now I remember the Blizzard of ’78 being a total shut down of most everything. Why? Because we couldn’t handle 27 inches of snow and the wind and high tide that came with it. But after 36 hours we had clear skies. Different conditions for cleaning up.

Granted wet snow causes more damage but Lehigh is an arse for using the ’78 storm as proof of his lazy argument.

Duh Scot, everyone working the storm has pretty much kicked ass compared to what happened in 1978

MBTA GM Beverly Scott fights back

Holy smokes. Beverly Scott sounds like my internal conversation. This is good:

The Scrum | Politics and Media from Boston to the Beltway| “Lord Jesus!”: 10 Takeaways From Beverly Scott’s Epic MBTA News Conference.

She says the weather was extreme, to an extent that no one expected.

She has had “no direct conversation with the Governor.” Well then.

She fiercely defends MBTA employees and their performance during the crisis.

She firmly puts the blame on outdated equipment and a lack of investment over a generation.

Listen to it.

Thoughts on taxes on Beacon Hill and beyond

Thank you Senator, as always, for posting here. - promoted by david

In 1998, voters approved a ballot measure proposing to cut the income tax from 5.95 to 5 percent. The Massachusetts Legislature froze the tax cut in 2002, to 5.3%, but by then a tax cut was in place that would reduce revenue by about $1.5 billion a year by Fiscal Year 2015. The Mass Budget and Policy Center has a clear explanation and excellent charts on tax policy. (http://www.massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=tax_cuts_factsheet.html)

While voters voted for this tax cut, led by then-Governor Paul Cellucci, the (Democratic) Legislature passed tax cuts from 1992 to 1998 that led to almost $600 million in lost state tax revenue, by the following actions: 1992, estate tax cut, -$253m; 1995, Raytheon tax cut, -$61m; 1996, Fidelity tax cut, -$130m; 1998, dividends and interest cut, -$130m. Over the years, the loss of revenue from these tax cuts has only grown, as the people and corporations who most benefited from them have become richer.

Now, the horrific breakdowns and delays in MBTA service over the past two weeks have raised the effects of these budget cuts to the general public, in a way that wasn’t as mainstream as before. Of course, it’s not just transportation that has seen cuts, but almost every single state agency, program, or function that the state provides (check out the MBPC link again).

So what’s been going on at the State House, and across Massachusetts, over the past ten years?

First, almost every legislator is hesitant to raise taxes, in large part out of a fear that raising taxes will lead to defeat in the next election. Even though most issue polling shows that while taxes are of concern to the general public, that they are not a deal breaker in an election, it is taken very seriously on Beacon Hill. Further, most municipal officials, community leaders and business owners have done little to support efforts to, say, pass a progressive tax package.

Second, the public does not properly understand the connection between services and taxes. While it is most certainly state elected officials’ (both constitutional and legislative) responsibility to educate the public about this, more needs to be done by community groups, municipal officials, progressive organizations, and issue associations. It’s critical to remember that there was a time in the 1970s and 80s when the group Mass Fair Share had literally hundreds of activists across the state, educating voters about important issues being considered on Beacon Hill, including tax policy.

Finally, the Beacon Hill culture, infecting not only legislators and constitutional officers, but also many advocacy groups, leads to deferring decisions on state tax policy to a small circle of decision-makers, ranging from House and Senate leadership to business-backed groups like the Mass Taxpayers Foundation. While I acknowledge in politics that compromises occur that often fall short of comprehensive action or reform, the pendulum has moved so far to the right that the state, and the people of Massachusetts, are facing some serious crises.

The age of consequences.

Update, resources for action: Sign the Transportation for Massachusetts Petition for Reliable, Safe Transit –  they’ve got 2,000+ signatures. Considering the magnitude of the problem, we need more. Call your reps (find out who they are) at 617-722-2000. Here’s a good template for a letter — likely better than my rather ill-tempered one to mine.

===

First, I wish everyone safety and comfort right now. For real. This is not fun. It’s a little — maybe more than a little — scary. Whatever comfort you can find – prayer, meditation, music, phone call to Mom … do what you gotta do.

And let’s appreciate the employees of the MBTA, trying to keep it working against all odds. They deserve better than this, too.

The T shutting down rail service through tomorrow is a real shock, though I suppose hardly more shocking than its total collapse over the last two weeks. We knew it was bad, and we’ve been complaining about it for years, and our legislature always found an excuse to do less than the minimum necessary.

I feel like a James Bond villain in welcoming Charlie Baker back to the scene that he’s at least partially responsible for. Welcome, Mr. Baker; we’ve been waiting for you all the while. Call it karma, payback, whatever — but he’s not suffering the worst of it. And honestly Schadenfreude is worth a bucket of warm spit when you can’t get to work and get paid and pay your bills. It’s a luxury we don’t really have right now.

Like somervilletom, I was glad to hear Beverly Scott speak with such candor this morning about the under-investment and inadequacy of our systems. She put the ball squarely in the court of the Governor and legislators — where it mostly belongs. I have no brief for the quality of her management one way or another; it’s simply impossible to assess how she’s doing when she’s heading a system set up for failure.

Charlie Baker refused to say this morning whether he has confidence in her. I will only say that if he fires her and sticks with his cuts to the T; or does nothing about the funding problem, then it proves he doesn’t really give a rat’s ass. And it will be yet another slap in the face to every T commuter, every employer of T commuters, every driver who benefits from those folks not also driving … and everyone who derives from the manifest economic benefits of good transit. That’s just about all of us.

Those who don’t take the T, who live far enough away that it’s not an option, or those whose travel patterns simply don’t happen to match up with the T’s hub-and-spokes … surely they can appreciate that they derive benefit from the vibrant Boston economy. That it doesn’t help them if their neighbors can’t get to work. That this costs the state’s economy and the state’s tax coffers immense amounts of money when people can’t get to work. And when the state runs a deficit, it’s going to cost you things that you care about. Not fixing this is more expensive than fixing it. Whether you live in Greater Boston or not, this matters to you.

This is not a quick fix, to say the least. The maintenance backlog is generational in scope. It takes forever to get from RFP to rolling stock on the rails. We just ordered Orange Line trains that will only all be in service — theoretically — by 2023. I’d call that pace glacial, but even glaciers disappear faster than that these days.

Charlie Baker, Bob DeLeo, and Stan Rosenberg only have one choice, which is to fund the MBTA. There is no more wiggle room. This is the age of consequences. It doesn’t much matter what Charlie Baker campaigned on, what he promised he’d do or not do in the campaign. No one’s going to be fooled by that kind of talk anymore. By calling for the necessary revenues, this could be Baker’s Nixon-to-China moment. He’s got a chance to right the ship — even though he essentially promised not to do so. No matter.

Live for the future: #transit2024

Breaking news: MBTA admits the TRUTH!

MBTA not running trains tomorrow -- commuter or subway. Insane. I'll have more on this later tonight. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

I’m genuinely glad to see that new MBTA CEO/General Manager Beverly Scott is breaking MBTA tradition and actually telling the truth about the organization’s utter inability to handle winter weather. Perhaps, with the MBTA now openly stating that it cannot stay open in winter weather and with its CEO last week directing would-be passengers to avoid it, our legislature will now actually discuss the question of how we fund the investment needed to return the MBTA to sustainable operation — even during run-of-the-mill winter weather like this.

For the first time since I’ve lived in Boston (I moved here in 1974), nearly fifty Red Line customers were trapped for over two hours on a stranded Red Line train this morning. The first obligation of the MBTA is to assure the safety of riders. The MBTA failed to meet that obligation for these passengers.

I also note another interesting tidbit in the MBTA “winter” page linked above — the entry for “Normal Rush Hour Service Frequency” for the Red Line contains “Every 9 minutes”. Excuse me? That has been every SIX minutes for years. Is this another unannounced reduction of service?

One monkey that does belong on Governor Baker’s back is the absurd burdening of the MBTA with Big-Dig debt. That marvelous “out of the box” (in this case insane) idea was Charlie Baker’s. It’s time to call him out on it, and undo the provision.

The MBTA is DEAD. In my view, we need to admit this and start the process of replacing it RIGHT NOW. The first step is to belatedly resurrect former Governor Patrick’s 2012 proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy and restore a sustainable financial footing to the MBTA.