You may have wondered about safety on the T. You may have wondered about management choices on the T — whether they are truly geared towards a safe and efficient customer experience. You may have wondered whether Governor Baker was more interested in ramping up capital spending to look good in time for his re-election, instead of taking care of day-to-day operations. In light of the Governor’s austerity policy, you may have wondered where his much-ballyhooed capital investments were coming from. You may have wondered if Governor Baker might learn anything by — I know, it’s really too much to ask — riding the T himself.
In short, you may have wondered if your MBTA experience is something less than ideal — even in this, the best of all possible worlds, with a Governor of almost impossible-to-overstate popularity.
In the wake of June’s Red Line derailment, a report was commissioned from an outside group of transit experts, which included former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. It seems that if anything, we’ve been way too generous to Governor Baker’s management of the T:
“In essence, safety is not the priority at the T, but it must be,” the panel wrote, adding that among staff “there is a general feeling that fiscal controls over the years may have gone too far, which coupled with staff cutting has resulted in the inability to accomplish required maintenance and inspections, or has hampered work keeping legacy system assets fully functional.”
Our resident transit expert, the good Rep. Tommy Vitolo, told us that right here back in May:
See that ~100M green sliver in FY18 [“Transfer from Operations”]? Every time the bus passes you by because it’s full, think of that green sliver. Every time the commuter rail cancels a train, think of that green sliver. When the T is running weekend/holiday schedules on big event days in Boston and the station platforms are jammed, think of those green wedges.
We don’t have enough operating budget for the MBTA. We’re not running enough buses, enough subway cars, enough buses. We’re probably not staffing enough preventative maintenance either. Our quality of service is down, because in addition to other things, there aren’t enough MBTA employees working during busy times. That’s an operating budget deficit, and hey lookie — the green sliver is money taken away from operating to spend on capital. That money should come from taxes instead (as should additional money for operating budget!).
This indicts Baker’s entire fiscal strategy for the MBTA, as well as his reputation for good management. Some of the explosive findings have actually nothing to do with budget at all:
In its summary, the panel also homed in on the culture of the T. It found that, “employees in general do not trust their leadership and therefore, do not share with leadership what is happening in the field for fear of heavy-handed discipline.”
“The workforce does not feel supported by management and are clearly frustrated with the management’s lack of responsiveness to their needs,” it wrote.
Now, Baker is doing his thing, which is to act if he’s been right on top of this the whole time, eagerly anticipating the findings. If that were true … then it would be true. Why did he need a group of expensive outside consultants to pique his interest, and tell him what every T rider already suspected?
I keep hearing Mike Dukakis’s voice in my head: Where has he been?