New York City

An Emergency Transportation Plan to Fix Boston's Transit Crisis

Yesterday we learned that due to decades of neglect the MBTA will need at least 30 days to restore service to the normal level of delays, signal problems and disabled trains we're used to. While there is plenty of blame to go around, right now we must focus on the current emergency.

MBTA General Manager Search Process Now Underway

Despite initially tepid response to the open position for MBTA General Manager (and MassDOT Rail and Transit Administrator), a number of applicants have stepped forward in the month since it was last reported on the matter.

From the Board of Directors, John Jenkins, Elizabeth Levin, and Secretary Richard Davey comprise the three person preliminary search committee who met this morning to begin screening the applicants who have thrown themselves into the pool thus far.

Their intent is to narrow down the pool of applicants to three to four candidates to present to the board with a group interview of selected candidates. So far, there are over 40 applicants with varying degrees of operational and leadership expertise, including candidates with experience from Toronto's TTC to San Francisco's MUNI. 13 of those were put to consideration this morning.

Aside from the desired qualities listed in the posting on the MBTA web site, the committee repeated its desire for candidates with good on-the-ground, operational expertise balanced with well-rounded experience across organisation operations and strong leadership experience.

Through all of this, will we end up with a GM who can lead the MBTA and continue with the internal organisational reform started by Rich Davey almost two years ago? Unlike in New York, where there has been enough political conflict to lead their last and most qualified CEO to resign, Governor Patrick strongly supports both MassDOT and the MBTA and we rarely see him bash either of them. Does it help that the Governor's office is not more than 850 metres away from both the Secretary's and General Manager's office, just across the Commons?

Suffice it to say, the upcoming MBTA GM will be managing the 6th most used public transport system in the US with the greatest debt of them all. S/he will need to work closely with the Governor, Secretary, and legislature in not only securing the funds necessary to operate the economic engine of the Commonwealth, but also show competence in affecting effective reform in the nation's most organisationally flat public transport operator. With little political friction to deal with (compared to that of the MBTA's closest neighbours in the US), the next GM will be able to focus on actually running the system and the search committee will be able to look for a candidate who has more public transport operations experience than New York's new MTA CEO, who is more known for his political and financial management savvy than his (nonexistent) transit experience.

The position remains open to applicants until the end of this year and the search committee will continue to filter candidates as they come in.

Transit Construction During the Great 'Recession'

I'm currently killing some time before heading off to a discussion at the Museum of the City of New York on the challenges facing ongoing and planned transit construction projects in the New York City metro region during these trying economic times. Boston has it's own projects that have been stalled (or in an extended design and environmental review process) for quite some time until this most recent MassDOT/MBTA Board of Directors meeting: the Orange Line infill station at Assembly Square, the Green Line Extension to Route 16 (the current project only extending to College Avenue, one stop shy of the legal requirement for the project to reach Medford), the Blue Line extension to Charles-MGH, further Blue Line extensions beyond Wonderland, drafting and design of new Red and Orange Line cars.

Thinking on that and a political comic from 1938 on the then titled 'recession' that I came across at the MCNY, infrastructure investment has always proven to be a means of driving economic recovery by putting people back to work and providing improved mobility for commerce during down economic times and after economic recovery.

The Obama administration is two years late in offering such a solution, instead having opted to deal first with the politically unpopular healthcare reform he initially promised during his campaign. Nevertheless, the Obama administration, the Federal DOT, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have outlined a budget for a more 'balanced' transportation budget, improving the budget ratio between transit and roads from 20:80 to 24:76.

Even more unfortunately, the mass transit funding debate often gets overshadowed by the high speed rail funding debate, the latter of which is currently being played out on the national political stage with sweeping action and unfortunately dramatic rejections of funding. Within mass transit funding, there are significant issues between expanding service and improving network access within cities, the former enabling more suburban settlement farther from city centers and the latter strengthening networks within cities and making them more resilient to network failures (i.e. medical emergencies, police activity, and disabled trains).

Will we 'win the future'? Maybe. But we've already lost a lot of time and money propping up companies rather than the physical infrastructure that enables us to live, work, and play.

Could Historic Trolleys Bolster Civic Pride?

With the holiday season imminent, the MTA, operator of New York City's subways, buses, commuter railroads, bridges, and tunnels, has announced their nostalgia trains that have now become an annual holiday treat. These nostalgia trains offer tourists and natives alike the opportunity to step into the subway's past by riding in well-preserved retired rolling stock, like vintage Lo-Vs and R1s. For a few Bostonians, every commute is a nostalgia ride on the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line, one of the last lines operating with original PCC streetcars in true revenue service. A couple of historic streetcars also sit unceremoniously at the unused northbound tracks at the Green Line Boylston Street. I suggested opening this up as an active museum exhibit to the GM at the round table the day before his appointment and he expressed interest in the idea.

Could opening a transit museum/exhibit in the heart of Boston and/or running one or more nostalgia trains be the key to raising civic pride in the system? It'll definitely fill in another piece of Boston's history, add another weekend activity for residents and tourists alike, and provide the MBTA with another revenue source.

However, it's unlikely that it will assuage the many frustrations expressed daily by riders on Twitter (and in real life). Only better service through capital and operations improvements can solve the negative rider experiences that haven't already been 'solved' with the availability of realtime information the MBTA has recently begun to offer. After all, the primary function of the MBTA is to transport people quickly, conveniently, and efficiently.

Ultimately, running nostalgia trains, offering tours of their facilities, and opening a museum shouldn't be high on the MBTA's agenda, but these would be valuable contributions to the greater history and culture of Boston, an aspect that is sorely lacking. As Brian Kane of the MBTA Advisory Board noted at the GM round table back in March, the MBTA has a story to tell and they could tell it better.

Update: An audit in 2007 actually found that the MTA operated the nostalgia trains at financial loss, though the MTA maintains that the maintenance and operation of the historic vehicles is important to the State's heritage. No doubt the MBTA would face the same dilemma with the added operations and the MBTA's tight budget would require serious evaluation of the financial benefits from those operations.

Call for Writers

The past couple of weeks have been a bit quiet and this being one of the few blogs covering transit issues in the Boston area, I'd like to keep it more active than I have as of late. I admire Benjamin Kabak of the Second Avenue Sagas blog for his ability to single-handedly keep SAS active with at least one or two posts a day - I should also note that the MTA in New York City, as well as the state of New York itself, suffers from innumerable transit-related issues that generate news stories daily. (Alas, Mr. Kabak is also a law student at NYU and has been blogging for years over at SAS, so he has no doubt mastered the art of news blogging.) I would like to have Transit on the Line as active as SAS, but the reality is that my full-time job leaves me little time to compose daily or even bi-weekly posts. With that, I'd like to open up TotL to any and all writers who would like to contribute to this blog, as well as contribute to responses on Twitter through TransitMatters. All those interested should contact me via email at marcDOTebuna*AT*gmailDOTcom.

It's important that Bostonians find a blog willing to cover transit and general transportation issues  in the Greater Boston Area with the frequency and depth it deserves because transit and the economic vitality of Boston is on the line.

Service Changes, But Where?

Service Changes, But Where?

A new design for service change notices is needed to improve communications from the MBTA

Yet another daily struggle straphangers encounter is that of finding information about service changes. As transit systems age and regular (and irregular) repairs must be conducted, service will occasionally be rerouted to accommodate those repairs. Most transit agencies choose to do these repairs on the weekends when service disruptions will affect as few riders as possible.

The Epic Struggle Continues

The Epic Struggle Continues

Transit faces a long road ahead as it strains under booming ridership

Welcome to TransitMatters. The genesis of this blog comes in part from my recent move to the Greater Boston Area, influence from transit blogs like Second Avenue Sagas, and the daily frustrations I see and hear expressed through tweets and on my commute. Like most other transit bloggers, I'm a huge transit and rail buff. I've loved trains for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I consumed Thomas the Tank Engine on television, the Long Island Railroad trains that ran behind our apartment building, and the New York City subway through the daily shuffle with my parents as one would go on shift and the other off. Today, transit is an integral part of my daily life and I've become a staunch advocate for the transit systems of America.