Mayor Marty Walsh is a little late to the MBTA pitchfork brigade … Maybe he took the Red Line, or got stuck in traffic. But he’s holding forth now, perhaps due to the barrage of criticism he and his tight-bro Gov. Baker have been receiving:
“There’s absolutely no checks and balances right now,” Walsh said Tuesday of T leadership, offering that its governing board has made “difficult decisions” to solidify the T’s financial picture since its creation in 2015 but is falling short in delivering basic service.
“Getting your fiscal house in order is one thing. Now it’s about getting the actual trains running,” he said at an unrelated event in the North End. “And there has to be something more to that.”
As Yvonne Abraham says, “sustained rage is the only thing that will get us out of this mess.” Is ten-plus years enough? Twenty? Apparently not!
- Ten years ago Governor Patrick ordered up the D’Alessandro report which put the lie to “reform before revenue”.
- Six years ago, Marty Walsh was one of Bob DeLeo’s rank-and-file in the House, while DeLeo was gutting Governor Patrick’s plan to fund the T.
- Five years ago — at the very beginning of Governor Baker’s first term — we famously experienced a catastrophic breakdown. Blame the blizzards, but the T was not hardy even in normal New England weather.
- This year … we get another fare increase.
- Four years into the future, we’re told we’ll all forget this ever happened, because of capital investments that simply restore the status quo ante of the 20th century.
But! Not a moment too soon, the worm has turned among opinion leaders and the local media: The previously invulnerable Walsh and Baker are now taking flak for their passivity in the face of a completely predictable crisis. Take your pick:
- Michael Widmer (formerly of MA Taxpayers Association), a reliable barometer for establishment thinking: “… the administration has shown no sense of urgency. Worse they have actually blocked progress.”
- Yvonne Abraham, Globe: “sustained rage is the only thing that will get us out of this mess.”
- Joan Vennochi, Globe: “He should also get on a train.”
- Globe unsigned editorial: “The Achilles heel of Governor Charlie Baker’s potential bid for a third term … If he’s seriously thinking of running for a third term, he’s got to show some more serious, tangible progress soon.“
- James Rooney of Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce: ““another reminder that we need major & urgent investment, prioritization of projects and a plan.”
- Mayor Joe Curtatone of Somerville: ““We have smart people in place. We have people who get it. What’s bewildering to me is, where’s the sense of urgency?”
- Richard Dimino, A Better City: “We’re not approaching this like a crisis … We’re not doing a good enough job on the state-of-good-repair. We need to put that effort on steroids.”
- Miles Howard, WBUR Cognoscenti: “… we convince ourselves that somehow, the commute will be better tomorrow — that the MBTA won’t break down again, despite decades of insufficient funding from the state, awful leadership appointments and a Legislature that refuses to take Boston’s transit crisis seriously. What is wrong with us?”
But I’m not going to end this post on a negative or cynical note. This newly unified and correctly-focused rage is getting results!
- The legislature voted overwhelmingly for the new, revived Fair Share amendment, which will free up (though not obligate this time) money for transport and education.
- Bob DeLeo himself says “in the coming months the House will debate a comprehensive package of revenue enhancements that will allow us to more immediately invest in infrastructure and other programs – prior to voters making a decision on the Fair Share amendment in 2022.”
So in the interest of mental health if nothing else, let’s look forward to a brighter future. The Baker administration itself has produced a very thorough transportation study that recognizes the need for a re-invention. TransitMatters has a vision of Regional Rail — a public transit system that transcends the 9-5 commuter model. But a massive commitment to public transit won’t come to fruition without a lot more money. If Governor Baker gets that message, he hasn’t let it be known.
So I’d like to dream of the possibility of 2023, when Governor Maura Healey, Mayor Michelle Wu, Senate President Jamie Eldridge (work with me here), and Speaker Tommy Vitolo (!) get together to implement a vision for a 21st century transit system: Pervasive; carbon-neutral; fiscally accountable; operationally efficient; and equitable.
We only got here by ignoring all of the warnings, and deliberately refusing to plan for the future. That’s not an inevitable choice. We can do a lot better than this.