Thursday, May 1, 2008

Boston Phoenix Runs Series on MBTA

Lately the media has been pretty quiet in regards to stories about the MBTA. Well that changed yesterday. The Phoenix, Boston's reigning alternative paper, has broken the silence with a special report about the MBTA.

We thought the six articles might be of interest to Train Stopping readers:
So why did The Phoenix go through the trouble of publishing a special report? This excerpt from the article "Is the MBTA on Track?" says it all:
The special report in this edition of the Phoenix is rooted in that assumption, and looks at issues both large and small. In some cases the articles are analytical; in other cases whimsical. But if there is a bottom line to be found in the Phoenix survey, it is this: all things considered, the MBTA is doing a pretty good job. The question is: how can it do better?

For the MBTA continually to improve its service and expand its reach, it must be given two key things: resources and freedom from political meddling. Neither is ever easy to find on Beacon Hill.

That is the real problem with the T — not the workers, not the managers, not the public support, but the dysfunction of our state government, whose leaders have yet to find an agency, department, or public authority they will not strangle of funds, bloat with patronage, subvert for misuse, or stymie in some petty power play.

Sadly, as our need for public transportation rose over the past 30 years, our leaders’ interest in it devolved and deteriorated. Massachusetts went from having a T-riding governor in Michael Dukakis, to Mitt Romney, who could not tell you what it cost to ride the Red Line. Radio talk-show hosts continue to lampoon Governor Deval Patrick’s Cadillac, but Patrick is committed to public transportation. Appointing Grabauskas as T chief was one of a scant handful of memorably good things Romney did. Let’s hope that in 2010, when Grabauskas’s current term expires, his work is appreciated, he wants to stay on, he is re-appointed, and, most important, the Patrick administration can fight the urge to play politics with the MBTA.

This is an interesting series that hits a lot of notes. The tone ranges from adoration (of the work Dan Grabauskas is doing - yes, I'm scratching my head on this one) to serious (the amount of debt the MBTA has) to stirring the pot (in terms of contract negotiations between the T and its union-member employees) to downright comical (yes, we have all encountered one of the seven "non-effective" habits of T riders).

In other T-related news, WBZ-TV ran an investigative report last night on the lack of riders on some MBTA buses. Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation was quoted as saying:
"the T cannot afford to underwrite lines that are severely, seriously underutilized."

Some buses average only 83 passengers spread out throughout the day.

Here are the highlights:
At a time when the T is facing increased rider ship due to high gas prices, and they say they can't increase service because of their dire financial situation, we analyzed the usage on several other bus routes as well.

We asked MATA General Manager Dan Grabauskas if it wouldn't actually be cheaper to put these people in cabs instead of running entire buses. "Well, I can absolutely tell you that we do do a cost benefit analysis and, and in some cases we do discontinue routes."

Some taxpayers might think that this doesn't affect them because they don't ride an MBTA bus. But every time someone pays the state sales tax, the MBTA automatically gets 20 percent of that money, regardless of where that transaction took place.

When told of these empty buses, one taxpayer in Sudbury, a community without MBTA service, said "there's a problem there, that's an issue."

Another responded "I'm not happy about it, my money going to it because I don't use it."

Grabauskas told us that they routinely re-evaluate the use of all bus lines every two years, but that now they will take an immediate look at the three lines we analyzed. That would be good news for taxpayers.

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