CT 49 - MBTA, News, Fares, Solutions & Why Everyone Depends on Transit

Recent MBTA news and advocacy battles encouraged me to record a podcast to counter the dominant narrative. Let's review what's causing this mess and how to stop the bleeding and operate a reliable and effective network.

Why a well functioning and affordable T should matter to everyone, because we all depend on transit even if we never use it (some of the reasons). And right now it's neither.

The population of Boston has increased 10 percent since 2004 and T ridership is up 30 percent on major lines, causing severe overcrowding, yet no significant improvements have been made since at least 2000, and service quality is declining. People cite transit as a primary reason the want to live in big cities.

The MBTA is chronically underfunded, promoting inefficient operating practices such as a reliance on overtime, deferred maintenance and an inability to plan for upgrades. Instead of addressing these problems, the control board has chosen to vilify transit workers.

Rapidly rising rents and declining wages have forced large numbers of people to move to places with slow, infrequent and expensive transit service. We have repeatedly cut service and raised fares on these "low ridership" services, while ignoring others with great potential.

Fares impact everyone, including those most vulnerable to rising costs, middle class riders who are more likely to choose other options, and everyone impacted by increase traffic on our streets (i.e. everyone). Bus, subway and commuter rail fares have more than doubled since 1991, while the gas tax has increased only 3 cents. Like transit, roads and highways are heavily subsidized, yet only transit riders are being asked for more. Governor Baker says a fee is a tax, but apparently not if it's a transit fare.

Finally I discuss several alternatives to raise revenue -- focusing on better and faster service -- without increasing the fee for users. But no efficiencies will fill the $7 Billion budget gap -- and that's just to reliably run what we have, never mind desperately needed upgrades. A transit network is a valuable public service, not a business, and it's time we started treating it like one.

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Episode 17: conversation in transit with Brock Dittus from The Sprocket Podcast, regional connections

I hopped on a train from Boston to Providence last week with Brock Dittus from The Sprocket Podcast. On the return train we got out the microphones and had an interesting chat about bikes, buses, trains, slow travel between cities, suburban sprawl and much more. Brock mentioned Tri-Met of Portland, the Lower Columbia Community Action Project which provides limited rural transit service in Washington state on a shoestring budget, and Transportland cargo bikes. Thanks to Josh Zisson from Bike Safe Boston for loaning Brock a superb single-speed bicycle.

At the end of the show I share an experience where a connection between LRTA and MBTA was practically useless due to lack of information. A great example of an inter-agency regional transit connection is the Coastal Link operated jointly by Bridgeport, Milford and Norwalk transit agencies on the Connecticut shore line. This decade-old route fills a gap in a retail-oriented suburban area and is part of a a series of local bus routes running from the New York line to the Rhode Island line.


All about transit in Boston

Boston is a great place to visit (and live) and offers lots of great lessons on transit service design and operation. It has one of the most diverse transit fleets in North America -- heavy rail (subway/metro), light rail (trolley/streetcar/tram), local and express buses (diesel/CNG/hybrid), electric trolley buses (trackless trolleys), regional commuter rail and a handful of commuter ferry routes in Boston Harbor.  The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), known locally as "the T", provides service throughout the region and operates all of these modes. You can read all about the MBTA on Wikipedia and the transit history and vehicle roster page maintained by local transit fan Jonathan Belcher. This week's super long show explores only a fraction of the system, including the Green Line light rail/trolley network, Blue Line heavy rail line, Silver Line bus rapid transit (BRT) lines, and the bus network in Harvard Square.

Please send in questions or comments on anything you hear to or comment on this page.