There’s been a lot of talk about the MBTA and our transportation system here in the Commonwealth for good reason, it has become a hardship no one should have to endure, impacting businesses and families. The talk has now begun to focus on not necessarily solutions, but on who to blame. The Pioneer Institute has been giving this some thought too, and although I don’t always agree with the Institute, their thoughtful response is thorough, balanced and considers both the operational and infrastructure decisions that have been made in recent history. Read it here:
Their appraisal matches what I have been seeing and worrying about for some time. Expanding lines and services without first fully grappling with the existing system is not an answer, it is a problem. Governor Patrick’s funding proposal last session also focused on expansion, adding and extending lines, without first focusing on and dealing with existing issues. The legislature has in fact been working on some of these historical issues in recent years. First, in 2009, a reform package addressing some of the the pension system cost drivers and streamlining agencies around all of transportation and a sales tax increase dedicating new revenue to the T. Then in 2013 the Legislature passed a bill adding $805 million in new revenue to transportation through the gas tax, tech tax and redirected fee revenues to transportation. Well, we know how that turned out, the new taxes were repealed. In 2014, the Legislature passed a $2.5 Billion bond bill for transportation infrastructure. From 2009 to 2013 the MBTA’s revenue has grown, as has it’s budget.
What we still haven’t done is make up for decades of underfunding and substandard maintenance and that will take money, but it is also going to take creating a plan that reflects more than just more money and pushing for service and infrastructure expansions. It will take a thorough assessment of needs, both operational and capital, and a larger conversation of transportation expectations for inside of 495 and the rest. Transportation is one of the biggest and most basic things we do together, whether it is by rail or road. It is going to take a plan that is about more than blame and increasing a line item to fix.