THE MBTA OVERSIGHT BOARD on Monday put on hold a plan to add additional bus routes to mitigate the cancellation of late-night service until a more sweeping proposal for all-night bus service can be vetted.
The T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board was intrigued enough by a proposal put forth on March 30 in CommonWealth magazine by three transportation advocates – Ari Ofsevit, Jeremy Mendelson, and James Aloisi – to put on hold a staff recommendation to add the bus routes.
In their article, the three advocates suggested expanding an existing bus service for early-morning workers to provide all-night service every day of the week. The proposal called for selected buses to run on an hourly basis during the night from most areas served by the T to a central point such as Copley Square, where passengers could make connections to their final destination. One bus route would run to Logan Airport, where nearly half of all shifts begin before MBTA service starts. The advocates said they believed the expanded service “would cost on the order of $1 million per year.”
WE BELIEVE THERE is an affordable pathway toward establishment of a robust late-night transit service on the MBTA, building on the T’s existing early morning bus service. Our plan would not just offer service on Friday and Saturday nights, as the recently canceled late-night experiment did, but instead offer service all night, every night, and be geared primarily toward getting people to their late-night and early morning jobs.
Thanks to repeat podcast guest Ari Ofsevit (The Amateur Planner) for designing most of the plan.
Co-Founder and Advocacy Director of Transit Matters, Jeremy Mendelson, comes into the studio to examine the MBTA, its recent and past issues, and how it could be improved right now.
Listen here to the clip from The Sandy Shack Show on 1510 WMEX.
January 6, 2016
So much for "winter resiliency" ...
Tranist advocates blamed a lack of maintenance for the problems.
“The system has not been maintained,” TransitMatters Director Jeremy Mendelson said. “Service quality has declined over the years, the many cuts and fare increases have not improved. This is an infrastructure problem. The issues today were nowhere near each other and there isn’t even any snow. These issues are all preventable and it is a result of them not being adequately funded."
Jan 6, 2016
By James Aloisi
In the same week that the House Speaker announced that he would not support any tax or fee increases this year, the same week when a Commuter Rail train derailed because of apparent infrastructure issues, and when delays were rampant on the Red Line—in that same week—we were told to prepare for yet another hike in MBTA fares. Forget about the optics of all this, which are terrible. Let’s talk instead about what it says about our values as a city and as a Commonwealth.
A fare increase is not justified by improved service. The T’s winter resilience program was smart and well funded, but unreliable performance is not solely the consequence of winter snow, cold and ice blitzkriegs. As every T rider knows full well, the T’s resilience problem spans all seasons because we are burdened by the high cost of decades of disinvestment. Now we are faced with the harsh reality, affirmed by the T’s Fiscal Control Board, that it will take a sustained effort costing over $7 billion to bring the T into a true state of good repair. Until and unless we can demonstrate some tangible and sustainable improvements to service, asking people to pay more for a service that too often is unreliable is simply not warranted.
A fare increase is also an ineffective revenue-generating tool. The proposed high- and low-range fare increases do not raise anywhere near enough to make a dent in the $7 billion state-of-good repair gap. The anticipated additional $20 to $40 million in fare revenue may help reduce a projected operating deficit, but I suspect most riders would rather see the T take action to reduce costs first. The deliberate strategy of announcing a plethora of mini-scandals of overtime abuse and fare evasion raises the question: Why not fix that stuff first and then ask for a fare hike?
Nor is a fare increase warranted by a low fare box recovery ratio (the percentage of fares paying for operating costs). Recent analysis by the Frontier Group has shown that when you fairly compare the T’s fare box recovery to other systems on a mode-for-mode basis (i.e. comparing bus-to-bus, light rail to light rail), the T is just about in the middle range nationally, and actually leads in fare box recovery for light rail service. Some may say that T fares should nevertheless cover a higher percentage of operating costs, but that view leads directly to a discussion of fairness and equity.
It is time to ask why taxes are always off the table, but fare increases are not. Since 2000, T fares have doubled while the gas tax was increased by a paltry 3 cents in 2013 (the first gas tax increase in over 20 years). This is the state that refused to even adjust its gas tax for inflation, but when it comes to asking T riders to pay more money for the same unimproved service, few voices cry foul. Is this because of the perception that only (or mostly) the powerless take the T? If not, what accounts for the disparate treatment of T riders?
James Aloisi is a former Secretary of Transportation and a principal in the Pemberton Square Group.
Jan 5, 2016
Will we ever fix the T? Two ex-governors, a mayor, the MBTA’s chief, and the secretary of transportation tell us why we’re getting exactly nowhere.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack defended the decision to consider fare increases even as many riders criticize the authority’s service. She said the MBTA is looking at many ways to infuse more cash into the system, in addition to increasing fares.
Dec 24, 2015
The T’s latest experiment with late-night transit launched with high hopes just a year and a half ago. This month, Governor Charlie Baker’s Fiscal and Management Control Board began the process of eliminating it early in the new year. As they contemplate fare hikes and other “unpopular or even painful” choices, T officials have deemed late-night service an experiment that failed.
Yet if a cash-strapped MBTA can’t keep running until bars close on weekend nights, that bodes ill for everything else the agency does. Late-night transit is at the mercy of the same aged equipment, cost structure, political currents, and tortured history that shape the T’s operations during the week.
Strip away the unfair stigma about ferrying around tipsy college students, and late night looks like this: It’s unprofitable, but it fills a niche and increases the T’s overall consumer appeal. In other words, it’s like many other services that the T provides.
So who or what brought late-night transit to this precipice? Let’s consider some of the suspects:
State transportation department cancels Green Line Extension contracts
“The T terminated its contracts with construction manager and general contractor White-Skanska-Kiewit, project manager and construction manager HDR/Gilbane, independent cost estimator Stanton Constructability Services, and final designer AECOM/HNTB, the transportation agency announced [Thursday].” …
-- “‘The state is looking for ways to pare down the project but a lot of these are very short-sighted,’ said Jeremy Mendelson of Transit Matters, citing proposals outlined Wednesday including one that would remove a planned maintenance station in Somerville in order to lower capital construction costs for the overall project. ‘If you try to pare it down, you cut a capital cost but raise operating cost long term.’”...
Dec 7, 2015
Means-tested T fares could be disastrous. -- By James Aloisi
We decry the growing income inequality that manifests itself as a Tale of Two Cities – one for the haves, and one for everyone else. Yet we may be fast approaching a Tale of Two Transit Systems – one for the voiceless in society, and one for the wealthy and connected. And we threaten to exacerbate the problem by using well-intentioned mid-Twentieth Century approaches to maintaining equality. Allow me to explain. [...]
As I’ve said before, asking T riders to pay more for the same quality of service is ineffective policy and morally wrong. Until and unless we have before us a comprehensive, credible plan to deal with the $7 billion state-of-good repair gap, we should put a halt to fare increase talk. And when the time does come to implement a new fare increase, lets figure out a way to help those who can least afford it through methods other than discounted fares. Discounting fares only takes money away from the T. Instead, we should be thinking creatively, perhaps using earned income tax credits or having the state subsidize fares for those who qualify for SNAP or similar programs (ideas recently offered for discussion by Josh Fairchild of the advocacy group TransitMatters).
Let me leave you with one final thought. We are all in this together, but won’t be for long once we push well-off commuters to private sector micro transit. A fair and equitable mobility system that everyone uses ought to be a pillar of a thriving urban experience. Once we lose our egalitarian transit system we lose the whole ballgame.
Feb 23, 2015
For the first time this month, the MBTA trolley and subway services are pretty much up and running.
“Let me tell you, I think that old T is trying to roar back over here,” said a jubilant MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott Monday morning, speaking to Morning Edition. “Our maintenance team has been working 360 around the clock and so, even in terms of our car counts, which are down some, but the service level, which is critical for customers, is also coming back very, very well.”
While the T’s darkest days this winter might be behind it — and let’s all knock on wood for that — many people are now wondering, what will it take to fix the T?
Terrance Regan, professor of city planning at Boston University.