Thursday, June 15, 2006

Putting the People in Mass Transit

Again, I call for starting with the ideal of a fareless mass-transit system in Massachusetts. We have pro and con folk here and here.

Even if we don't end up there, let's set the goal where we want to go.

For an active thread on related topics, head over to Live from the Third Rail.

Hop on, jump in, speak up. There is no better set of conditions for an overhaul of the MBTA both at the board and legislature levels. We have to stop thinking about more duct tape on a serious, complicated machine.

Displaced Rant: There seems to be a little comment-posting issue over at Live. Until it's resolved, I'll tuck a reply to that thread here.
Hidden costs and debt are no less real. If auto and truck drivers had to pay the full costs of highways -- without the extra burden from pollution and ill health, every road would have tolls or state taxes would be several times what they are now. From the Eisenhower days and even before, we as a nation and several states have accepted that we pay billions annually to subsidize the roads that let us travel and move our goods from dock or factory to warehouse and store. We pay it and reap the benefits in subsidized food and other goods. The costs are huge and real, but hidden.

Several Europe and Asian countries have awesome intercity train system. Yet in each country and region, the governments recognized the broad significance of having these. They paid for the infrastructure. Only then did they say keep the costs below this or that level and make sure your fares pay for this percentage of costs.

In contrast, adding the $5.2 billion in debt to the MBTA (28% of its budget by its count), the legislature virtually guaranteed failure. All of the economic stars would have had to align perfectly to begin reducing that debt.

We need both extremes here. First, we must have the vision to define our ideal mass-transit system to fit the current and foreseeable conditions. Our oil dependence, pollution and health issues, road congestion and so forth should make this pretty easy. The vision should not say, "Oh, gee, how can we take this broken, unprofitable system and tweak it to make it barely workable."

That's the primary drive for the call for a fareless MBTA.

The could not be a more perfect set of pressures that would promise greater ridership and fewer cars for our cities. We need innovation and farseeing solutions. The current proposals from the MBTA board virtually ensure fewer riders, more cars, and higher per-ride costs.

In the end, removing the debt, putting better managers in charge of the MBTA, reducing fares to $1 for the subway, and giving the MBTA a fair chance at meeting its costs may the enough. I want us to start with that ideal and fareless system on the table.

The General Court made a huge boner in forward funding. As we are demanding that they fix it, we should be looking beyond patch, patch, patch.

I'll try to gather the supporting data as I get to it -- spun my way, of course. I can be like Lightnin' Hopkins saying, "I don't understand why people don't understand the way I do."

Meanwhile, we've been having other discussion on my rant here and here.

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Mark D. Snyder said...

My coworker just explained to me yesterday how in the 1930's and what not car companies bought transit systems and dismantled them. In NYC there were tons of trollys and conveyer belts for goods. Imagine how much better for the environemtn that would be without all those cars sitting idle in traffic. After seeing al gores movie I really feel like we are doomed!!! AHH!

massmarrier said...

Well, a blogger chum, another alter kaker like I, sees An Inconvenient Truth as a necessary and very timely call to action. I confess that I am leaning toward the AHH! end of the seesaw myself.

As a cyclist, I'm also prejudiced for other tailpipe sucking, bumper dodging reasons. More T, less SUV!