It Will Take More Than a Fare Hike To Fix The MBTA - WGBH News

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?

Full story.

James Aloisi is a former Secretary of Transportation and a principal in the Pemberton Square Group.

MBTA officials consider 2 fare-hike proposals - Boston Globe

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.


Who killed late-night T? - Boston Globe

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 - Politico

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.’”...

Read more.

A tale of two transit systems - CommonWealth Magazine

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.

Read more.


Beer & Transit with T4MA - Dec 10 - POSTPONED

UPDATE: We have to CANCEL this month's Beer & Transit due to a unexpected problem with the venue. Enjoy an evening off during this busy time of year, and look for us to reschedule for a date sometime early next year. Josh & Charlie may also make an appearance on an upcoming podcast.

Join us on Dec 10 for another Beer & Transit with Transportation for Massachusetts, a statewide network of advocates fighting for revenue and accountability in transportation policy. As we turn our attention to the funding and policy issues affecting transit in Massachusetts and beyond and what T4MA is working on, we'll learn about long- and short-term transportation policy in light of changing technology and reform, involving others in transportation issues, and have a robust discussion.

Guest Speakers

Josh Ostroff, Partnerships Director, T4MA

Josh is a Natick Selectman, a past president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and a strong proponent of transportation and public engagement.  He works with local and regional government and with allied organizations and associations throughout Massachusetts.

Charlie Ticotsky, Policy Director, T4MA

Charlie coordinates policy, legislation and regulations that support the coalition's agenda. He brings experience in regional planning, government affairs and previously worked in the Massachusetts State House as legislative director for a state representative.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

5:30 - 6:00 PM - Attendees Arrive

6:00 - 6:10 PM - TransitMatters Updates/Announcements

6:10 - 6:40 PM - Guest Speakers

6:40 - 8:00 PM - Q&A and Social/Networking

LOCATION: Lir, 903 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02115 - T to Hynes, Copley, Back Bay; or #1 bus

Get tickets here and consider supporting TransitMatters by joining as a member.

Beer & Transit is our monthly beer summit on transit issues, a mix of lecture, discussion, and social event. We bring the guest, you bring your ideas and questions.

Beer & Transit with Former Governor Dukakis - Oct 28

Beer & Transit is our monthly networking event, beer summit, and idea incubator. This month will be our premier event! We paired up with the Boston chapter of the Young Professionals in Transportation to bring you the venerable Michael Dukakis.

Oct 28 - 5pm

Guest Speaker: Michael Dukakis

Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Northeastern University

Governor of Massachusetts (1975-1979, 1983-1991)


Dukakis has teamed up with fellow former Masssachusetts governor Bill Weld to reignite the conversation on the North-South Rail Link. The link has been a long-standing critical project that would link North and South Stations and open the door to a more comprehensive, frequent, RER/S-Bahn/BART/DC Metro-style regional rail network.

You can read even more about his legendary career at Northeastern University's Dukakis Center site.

More details and RSVP

Beer & Transit - Sept 30


The monthly Beer & Transit series returns from summer break rejuvenated and ready for better bus and train service. Have you seen our vision?

Per usual, we'll be hosted by Lir in their upstairs room at 903 Boylston Street in Back Bay.

This month, our guest speaker is Benjamin Ross. He is the author of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, regular contributor to the Greater Greater Washington blog, and former president of the Action Committee for Transit in Montgomery County, MD. He'll share some of his experiences advocating for the Purple Line in Maryland, updates from his neck of the woods, and advice for transit advocates in Boston.


Thanks for Coming to Our March Beer & Transit!

A huge thanks to all of you who came to Lir and chatted with with us and James Aloisi. We're already ramping up for the next #BeerAndTransit in April. Stay tuned to this space and be sure you're subscribed to our mailing list or following us on Twitter to hear about our next event.

Event photos after the jump.

Beer & Transit featuring James Aloisi | Wed, 11 March 2015

Join us to learn more about the road ahead for our advocacy group and contribute your ideas for future membership-building activities and events. All of this over delicious food and beer at LIR on Boylston Street.

We'll be hosting featured guest James Aloisi, fomer Massachusetts Transport Secretary and frequent guest contributor to CommonWealth Magazine.

Let us know if you'll be joining us at our event!

How To Fix The MBTA - Radio Boston (WBUR)

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?


Jeremy Mendelson, co-founder of TransitMatters.

Terrance Regan, professor of city planning at Boston University.

Listen here and read the original post.