Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chewing on Choo-Choos in Boston

We definitely should be at a turning point on public transit. Yet everyone from the ousted head of the MBTA to the governor is oblivious to the real issues.

I'd like to be amused by the cross-blaming reported in the Globe and Herald. None of it is funny though.

Two weeks ago, MBTA board members called for General Manager Daniel Grabauskas to go, as incompetent. Gov. Deval Patrick publicly agreed. Now, having been bought out of the job for $328,000, Grabauskas is all whiny about being blameless for the agency failures.

Both sides are stomping and snorting about rider fares instead of the real issues. Sure, riders don't want the subway ride to go from $1.70 to $2, but the 30¢ is not what it should be about.

I've been alternately yelling and mumbling about the T for years, here and at public hearings. The T disease is not its symptom of fare hikes or not.

To the current public battles, a key aspect is that Grabauskas was, in fact, a bad manager. Like a knight holding up a shield made of a paper towel, he's been holding up the facts that he didn't and doesn't want a fare increase. He claims that since the legislature gave the T a budget supplement, it's okay on cash for the calendar year.

Not the issue, Danny Boy.

He sat in his swivel chair for years as the T spiraled around and down under unworkable, legislature-imposed debt. Any decent manager, of a major agency or a taco stand, would have gone to the root of the major problem. He never did.

Basing the T's self-funding operations on a portion of unending sales-tax growth was one of the General Court's biggest blunders of all time. The GM...and the Governor...and the heads of the Senate and House...needed to have gotten real about this years ago. They have all fallen far, far short on this crucial problem. The sooner they pull their skirts off their foreheads and look at the situation, the sooner they can fix it.

They can start by asking what we want from public transit. To listen to the bunch of them now, it is status quo on fares.

Don't be such jerks, boys and girls. The needs and futures include:
  • Reliable, frequent, safe and clean train and bus service
  • Incentives (the above, plus low cost) for more riders
  • Fewer cars (with lower noise, congestion, pollution, accidents)
  • More transit from where people live to where they work and play
We need some real goals, not crossing our body parts, hoping for fares to stay the same. Let's aim for a T that has all those features above and nearing free fares (or at least the $1 former Gov. Michael Dukakis proposed two years ago). Those would be the game changers we want and need.

In these parts, we like to brag about having the country's first subway. Well, that's nothing in itself. Pennsylvania boasts of the first turnpike. Both systems look like the first and suffer by comparison with the modern.

Instead, we should leap to the best mass transit. We can't get it by hobbling the agency in charge with unmanageable debt.

Yes, Grabauskas failed, but he wasn't alone in that. As well as being delusionally short-sighted, he played the game without the tools. The inane debt structure demands failure.

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