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She firmly puts the blame on outdated equipment and a lack of investment over a generation.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

Olympic Fever: Three Events This Week - UPDATED with cancellations

Great info - thanks for posting! - promoted by david

If the weather permits, Monday and Tuesday will see an avalanche of events centering on the possibility of a Boston Olympics with, respectively, London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, a panel of eminent architects, and another panel of the principals for and against the proposal.

Olympic fever is happening now.

London’s Mayor Boris Johnson at Faneuil Hall with John Fish and John Barros UPDATE: This event is cancelled and likely will not be rescheduled.  See the comments.
British Consulate General, Boston
Monday, February 9
5:30 PM to 7:00 PM (EST)
Faneuil Hall, 1 Faneuil Hall Square, Boston
RSVP at this link

Mayor Boris Johnson will be joined by Boston 2024 Chairman John Fish and Chief of Economic Development for the City of Boston John Barros to discuss London’s 2012 Olympic legacy and opportunities to bring bold plans for development to life.

The discussion will be moderated by NECN’s Jim Braude.
A valid Eventbrite registration and ticket must be presented to enter the event.


Designing Boston: Olympics 2024 UPDATE: This event is postponed.  Check this site for information on rescheduling.
Monday, February 9
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
BSA Space, 290 Congress Street, Boston
RSVP by emailing rsvp@architects.org

Join us on February 9 for our next Designing Boston conversation, this time on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s decision to back Boston as the host for the 2024 Olympics.

As former Boston city councilor Mike Ross said during a recent interview with WBUR’s Radio Boston, “[The Big Dig] changed the shape and face of Boston and… the Olympics will do the same thing.”

Focusing on the role that architecture has (or has not) played in making previous Olympics successful, Ross will moderate this panel discussion and dive into lessons learned by architects and planners with past Olympic experience in such cities as Barcelona, Beijing, Sydney, and London. This event launches a series of conversations and debates related to potential roles, responsibilities, and opportunities available to architects, planners, and developers as this huge and exciting undertaking unfolds.

Michael P. Ross, attorney, Prince Lobel Tye

Panelists will include
Dennis Pieprz Assoc. AIA, Principal, Sasaki Associates
Gavin McMillan, Senior Principal, Hargreaves Associates
Kyu Sung Woo FAIA, Kyu Sung Woo Architects


Boston Going for the Gold in 2024: Transportation and Infrastructure Opportunities and Hurdles
Tuesday, February 10
7:45 AM to 9:45 AM (EST)
C. Walsh Theatre – Suffolk University, 55 Temple Street, Boston

How does Boston leverage its Olympics proposal to ensure that much-needed housing, transportation, and infrastructure improvements will be addressed for lasting benefits?

Richard Davey, CEO, Boston 2024
Peter Zuk, Principal, Zuk International, Inc.
Jeanne DuBois, Strategic Advisor, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation
Chris Dempsey, Co-Chair, No Boston Olympics
Alex Krieger, FAIA Principal, NBBJ, Professor of Urban Design Harvard Graduate School of Design
Moderated by:
Peter Howe, Business Editor, NECN

This event is free and open to the public; however, RSVP is required.

983 Deaths

Incredible. Treatment-on-demand now. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

If there was a terrorist camp in Afghanistan that sent a few sleeper cells to to Massachusetts and in the course of one year, 983 civilians would lose their lives at the hands of these militants in 2014, it would be in the headlines for months.  We’d be printing bumper stickers to remember the 983.  There would be a fund drive to help the families of the 983.  No doubt Secretary Kerry, Governor Baker and a who’s who of that sort would be working to stop another 983 Massachusetts citizens from meeting the same fate in 2015.

983 citizens did lose their life in 2014 but it was not at the hand of Afghan militants; it was at the hands of Afghan farmers.  While not all heroin comes from Afghanistan and while not all opiate deaths are from heroin, I do hope you see my point.

983 citizens were killed in 2014 but there are no slogans, no rallies, no fund drives because, perhaps, we dismiss them as junkies, weak people, morally inferiors who did it to themselves.  And then comes the day when we read about a drug bust in our quaint and quite suburban town, we hear that a daughter of a friend of ours in a posh neighborhood is in rehab, and we learn that a co-worker has been fired because he was stealing on the job to support his wife’s drug habit.

This is not “those people” anymore.  This is us.

983 of us died last year from this attack and unless we wake up, we’ll hit 1,000 this year.

I am relived to see Attorney General Maura Healey put this at the forefront of her office and I hope that our other elected officials will do the same.

Let's support reliable, safe and affordable transportation

If you haven't read today's Globe article about how behind other cities the MBTA is, read it now. Here's the lede: "The primary problem that plagued the MBTA’s subway cars this week — and caused thousands of commuters to be stranded on Monday and Tuesday — is a familiar challenge to transit specialists that other cities solved years ago using modern technology." - promoted by david

The Transportation for Massachusetts coalition has launched an online petition to ask the Governor and the Legislature to adequately fund transportation.  We must build on the 2013 Transportation Finance Act that reversed years of underinvestment, but which does not meet our proven needs.  Read more and sign up through this link.

The recent and ongoing weather-induced travel horror stories have focused attention on the antiquated MBTA.  But all around the state, people are enduring transportation travails from weather that is predictable.  So this crisis is an opportunity to engage people in solutions.

Revenue is essential.  Smart reform is critical.  Accountability is necessary.  And good project decision making and priorities are the future.

One element of the 2013 law is the Project Selection Advisory Council, which our coalition advocated for and which is charged with making recommendations for how MA prioritizes and chooses transportation projects in the years to come, considering cost effectiveness, regional equity, climate, social equity and public health.

Even as we dig out from decades of underfunding (and feet of snow) we must plan wisely.

Please hop on board at this link.

Thank you.

Josh Ostroff, Outreach Director, Transportation for Massachusetts

@T4MASS, https://facebook.com/T4MASS

Undecover Boss, American Capitalism On Display

"He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!" Read the wise tale here. - promoted by Bob_Neer

If I feel my blood pressure falling, all I need to do is watch one episode of Undercover Boss, a hit TV show on CBS.  Each show follows a standard plot line.  The owner or CEO of a company goes under cover as a regular Joe trying to make a living at one of the numerous low paying, dead end jobs with no benefits that have become standard issue in the USA.

The undercover boss quickly discovers that the employees are doing the best they can under horrible conditions.  Many are suffering from illnesses that their health insurance or lack of insurance will not cover.  Some are crushed by mountains of debt from trying to live in the USA with a paycheck that no longer covers even the basics.  The boss is often touched by the dedication and high morality of these people who are barely scraping by at a job for a company where the same company has provided that owner or CEO with an opulent lifestyle beyond the imagination or reach of any employee.

This plot line has a rich history.  The producers at CBS act like a modern day Jacob Marley’s Ghost as they take their Scrooge de jour through a labyrinth of lives all in ruin and all employees of Scrooge’s business.

In the last quarter of each show, the boss sits down with each of the four or five exploited employees that he or she has met in this episode.  The boss thanks each employee for their dedication, hard work, and devotion to the company while giving them gifts of cash or other benefits to make up for the shortfalls that existed because the employees were paid so little in the past.

The company that is the subject of the program receives a wealth of positive advertising and the CEO or boss hands out up to $100K in gifts to a few lucky employees; not a bad deal for the company.

Unlike the story in A Christmas Carol, however, only a few employees are treated with compassion and respect.  Bob Cratchit’s family gets a helping hand.  Tiny Tim gets his 15 minutes of fame and new pair of crutches, but with Undercover Boss, that’s where it ends.  The other employees are still out in the cold as, so far as I know, not one of the episodes of Undercover Boss has resulted in a dramatic catharsis where the CEO is transformed from Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders. Their only hope is the next episode.

American Capitalism on display on CBS.

Rep. Stephen Lynch Steps Up.

And speaking of transparency, bravo to Rep. Lynch. It's high time these documents were declassified. - promoted by david

Via digby’s blog, I found this New York Times article about how Stephen Lynch is standing up for releasing a “still-classified section of the investigation by congressional intelligence committees into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks … that examine[s] crucial support given the hijackers and that by all accounts implicate[s] prominent Saudis in financing terrorism.” Those 9/11 attackers got their financing from someone, and the American people deserve to know who did the financing.

“I think it is the right thing to do,” said Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts and an author of a bipartisan resolution encouraging President Obama to declassify the section. “Let’s put it out there.”

White House officials say the administration has undertaken a review on whether to release the pages but has no timetable for when they might be made public.

Mr. Lynch and his allies have been joined by former Senator Bob Graham of Florida, who as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee was a leader of the inquiry. He has called for the release of the report’s Part 4, which dealt with Saudi Arabia, since President George W. Bush ordered it classified when the rest of the report was released in December 2002.

Mr. Graham has repeatedly said it shows that Saudi Arabia was complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks. “The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11, and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier,” Mr. Graham said last month as he pressed for the pages to be made public.

Relatives of those killed on Sept. 11 as well as plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against Saudi Arabia have also demanded that the pages be made public, seeing them as the vital link that they believe connects an important ally of the United States to the deadly attacks. They say the pages, Part 4 of the report, could also help in determining the source of current funding for terrorist activities.

“If we stop funding of terrorism and hold those people accountable, wouldn’t it make a dent in the financing of terrorism today?” asked William Doyle, whose son, Joseph, was killed in the World Trade Center. Mr. Doyle said that President Obama personally assured him after the death of Osama bin Laden that he would declassify that section of the report.

Read the whole thing. And if you see Stephen Lynch, thank him for standing up for the right thing.

Time for Public Hearings on Boston 2024/Go Boston 2030 Spending

Transparency! Thanks for posting here, Senator. - promoted by david

In Tuesday’s edition of the Boston Herald an article appeared stating that members of Boston 2024 and Go Boston 2030 have been meeting “behind closed doors” with some state legislators and transportation officials to discuss long-term transportation plans for the Boston.  Many of those duly elected and charged with helping to shape the Commonwealth’s transportation policy are being left out.

That is why I have asked for public hearings.  On Wednesday I sent the attached letter to Senator McGee, the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, to request hearings before our committee on this important matter. I am very concerned that the public and their elected members of the legislature are being circumvented. These are decisions that will affect Massachusetts residents and taxpayers for many years to come.

I encourage my colleagues and citizens on both sides of the aisle to insist upon transparency in this process. Many here on BlueMassGroup have expressed the same misgivings I share about public resources going toward the Olympics and about a few connected insiders making consequential decisions for our state. I know many of you agree that the public deserves a say on these matters, and I look forward to seeing an open and healthy discussion on the Transportation Committee and in the legislature about the long-term transportation plans for the Commonwealth.

Warning: Lane Closures Ahead #Boston2024

I was planning to write this up last night, honest!  But I didn’t get to it, and the Herald beat me to the punch.  No matter, it’s still a good story.

See, one thing everyone has been wondering – especially after the #MBTAfail of recent days – is how all those Olympic athletes, spectators, media, etc. are going to get around Boston in a timely fashion.  After all, Boston traffic does have a nasty habit of locking up at the most inopportune moments.

Well, Boston 2024 has a fix (p. 13) for that: “Olympic Lanes.”

Olympic Lanes will connect venues and provide reliable, safe transport for the Olympic Fleet and spectator shuttles on a network of more than 55 km of dedicated roadway lanes.

55 km translates to about 33 miles, for the curious.  So where are those 33 miles of “dedicated roadway lanes” going to come from?  See page 56:

Two main highways comprising about half of the Olympic Network —I-90 and I-93 — will connect Boston-Logan International Airport to the Athletes’ Village, downtown hotels and the waterfront while providing the spine of the ORN for Boston 2024. A series of downtown arterials will provide permitted vehicles with dedicated connections between competition venues when active, the IBC/MPC and hotels.

Ohhhhkaaayyy.  So we’re talking at least one lane in both directions on I-93, the same on the Turnpike, and a bunch of dedicated lanes on downtown roads well.  What could go wrong?

Not to worry, though, Boston 2024 says we’re used to this kind of thing.

The city and the region have become accustomed to changes in roadway capacities as result of the significant investment in public works over the past two decades. As an example, in 2011, the accelerated replacement of 14 bridges along I-93 north of Boston severely restricted capacity along the corridor for every weekend of the summer. During that project, traffic reductions/diversions of about 50 percent of typical summer demands were achieved through a comprehensive transportation demand management and regional traffic management plan. A similar plan would be put in place to mitigate the impacts of the Olympic Lanes associated with the I-93 corridor during the Games.

In other words, we’re used to traffic so awful that you’d rather gnaw off an arm than deal with it.  And this’ll be just more of the same.

Maybe not, though.  The problem with the Boston 2024 “analysis” is that as far as I can recall, there has rarely if ever been a situation in which capacity on the highways and secondary and downtown roads was severely restricted simultaneously.  To the contrary, as just one example (also cited in the Boston 2024 document), when the Callahan Tunnel was shut down recently, other roads (such as the South Boston bypass) were opened in order to ensure that traffic diverted from the Callahan had somewhere else to go.  But what Boston 2024 is proposing is basically to give the Olympic Lanes priority access to everything, and the rest of Boston can just lump it.

There’s no explanation in the Boston 2024 document as to how it would be possible to mitigate the impact of the Olympic Lanes.  Nor does it seem like the Mayor’s office has given it much thought.  From the Herald story:

Boston 2024’s public relations team declined to comment on the shuttle plan, street closures or parking bans outlined in their own proposal, deferring comment to Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

A Walsh spokeswoman said she could not estimate how many on-street and metered parking spaces could be eliminated for the Olympics or which streets may be closed.

“We are still nine years away from the 2024 Summer Games, and it is too early to determine how athletes will be transported or street closings and parking spaces,” said Walsh spokeswoman Laura Oggeri. “Many of those decisions will be driven by the location of the venues, which will be finalized over the coming years after a thorough community process.”

Keep reading those bid documents, folks.  There’s lots in there yet to be fully vetted.

Boston 2024 drops one hilariously terrible part of their bid to host the Olympics

The Globe reports today that Boston 2024, under pressure from both landlord and tenant groups, has scrapped a particularly ill-conceived part of their plan to find enough housing in Boston for spectators.  Here’s what they originally had in mind (p. 33):

approximately 100,000 students live off-campus in privately-owned, rental apartments throughout the city. In line with the academic calendar, the majority of Boston apartment leases are one-year in duration with a lease commencement date of September 1. As a result, students who vacate the city during their summer break opt to sublet their room or apartment to other tenants.

This scenario presents a tremendous opportunity for spectator accommodations, offering places for visitors to stay in neighborhoods popular for students such as Allston/Brighton and Fenway, which fall within walking distance to the University Cluster and provide convenient access to public transit.

Using a third-party specialist to manage the operation and create a streamlined program for Boston-area landlords, leases signed for September 1 of the year preceding the Games could be executed as 9-month leases, as opposed to typical 12-month leases. Regulations would then be in place to support reasonable rates for spectator accommodation for the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Wow.  First of all, have any of these people actually seen those student apartments?  Not exactly what the international tourist set has in mind for an Olympic visit.  Second, did they seriously think they can tell an entire segment of the market to execute 9-month instead of 12-month leases?  

Third, the most shocking part is the bit about enacting regulations “to support reasonable rates for spectator accommodation” – i.e., rent control.  Rent control, of course, has been illegal in Massachusetts since a 1994 ballot question banned it.  The Globe gets a great quote on this subject:

Kathy Brown, coordinator of the Boston Tenant Coalition, questioned why regulations to hold down rents, if legal, should be limited to international visitors.

“If they can do some restrictions for spectators, let’s see about some protections for hard-working Bostonians, as well,” she said.

Yeah, how about that.

Anyway, this part of the bid has been dropped – per the Globe, Boston 2024 assures us that “we are confident that there are more than enough accommodations for spectators in the region, and we will not be pursuing it further.”  Though it’s unclear exactly where those accommodations will come from, since, as Boston 2024 itself says (p. 33), “the majority of [the 50,000+ hotel rooms in a 50 km radius of Boston] will be allocated to client groups that take precedence over spectators.”  It’s unclear who “client groups” are, but my guess is that phrase refers to the visiting one-percenters.

In any event, there’s undoubtedly a lot of other stuff in the Boston 2024 bid documents that, when you read it carefully, might raise a few eyebrows.  I confess I haven’t taken the time yet to read the whole set of documents.  But there are surely some more terrific nuggets of awful yet to be discovered.  This is a great project for the BMG hive mind, so have at it!