Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Weekend News Round-Up

Good morning. I hope everyone's holiday and holiday weekend was enjoyable.

Yesterday's Sunday Boston Globe "Starts & Stops" column focused on the problems New York City's MTA has. The article featured an extensive interview with MBTA GM Dan Grabauskas. I'm not sure I agree with anything Dan had to say (a lot of doom and gloom), as I do believe the MTA is a much better run entity than the MBTA. I'm basing this on my own personal experiences riding the NYC subway system and suburban trains. Dan's comments are typical, but what is even more interesting are the comments that Globe readers made. If you have some time, check them out.

Commuter rail parking is the issue that just won't die. Yet another article, this one from Thursday's Globe, about how people would rather pay private businesses than the T. The owner of Fitzgerald's General Store in Southborough would like to pave a lot near his store and add 80 spaces. Right on Vinnie Patel!! Seriously - if I had to take the commuter rail from Southborough, I would much rather park in Mr. Patel's lot than the T's lot, It is easier to get out of Mr. Patel's lot at night and it isn't that far of a walk to the train. The T is claiming that the private lots aren't impacting their parking fee collections, rather private lots bring in more riders. I would love to know what the T is smoking?

Finally, the T's New Year's Eve schedule has been announced.


BlueFreak said...

There are several important reasons that the MTA (which I am including MTA-New York City Transit, Long Island Bus, Metro North Railroad, and Long Island Rail Road--e.g. the regional subway, bus, and commuter rail services) and MBTA are not comparable:

1) The MTA carries almost ten times as many passengers as the MBTA (3,471,886,047 unlinked passenger trips on the MTA vs. 357,578,991 unlinked passenger trips on the MBTA).

2) Even though the average unlinked passenger trip length on the two systems is almost identical (4.9 miles on the MBTA; 4.6 miles on the MTA), the MBTA's operating expenses are over 60 cents per passenger more than the MTA's ($2.12 per pax trip on the MTA vs. $2.76 per trip on the MBTA).

3) The MTA has the opportunity to cross-subsidize the transit services via bridge and tunnel tolls (which it has does so for many years--it is almost akin to a very weak congestion tax); the MBTA has no such opportunity.

4) Unlike the MBTA, the MTA does not regularly hire customer service agents at salaries higher than those of transit planners (this comes from personal experience from just a year ago--a mid-level transit planning position at the T I had applied for (and which required advanced degrees and experience) actually had a posted salary range that was lower than that posted for customer service agents (for which a high school education is required). I did end up finding a better paying job in my field elsewhere in the region, but this does show where the priorities are (or, more likely, that there are no priorities) at the T.

Notes: All data is from the FTA's National Transit Database and is for FY 2007. I also know people who work at both the MTA and the MBTA in planning-type positions, so my opinions may be biased accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I lived in the NYC area for more than 25 years before moving to MA a few years ago. My own opinion is that the difference between the MBTA and MTA is like night and day. Having used every imaginable MTA service during those 25 years, I think the number of truly awful delays I've experienced is much less than the number I've experienced on the MBTA subway and commuter rail lines. It's made me really think back and appreciate how good we had it compared to here. I was warned by a friend (another fellow New Yorker) who did his fellowship at Harvard that mass transportation in the Boston area was a joke. When he finished his work, he promptly packed up and left. Of course, job opportunity, not commuting, was a major factor in his decision. I guess next time he gives me advice about a place, I'll start listening. BlueFreak makes some interesting points regarding the differences between the MTA and MBTA, especially the operating expense per passenger. I found this out firsthand when my monthly commuting costs (parking, fares) were higher than what I used to pay in NY. I don't know why the MBTA's operating expense per passenger is higher than the MTA's (economies of scale maybe?) and it's just another indication to me that there is something seriously wrong with the way the MBTA is run. Heck, if things continue on their present course, I may follow my friend's course and leave too. Never makes any sense to keep throwing money (ok, my money) at bad money and keep hoping for the best.