Archive for MBTA

Transportation Equity Podcast

Just imagine what 58 transportation-oriented private and governmental groups could think of and accomplish together. Don’t imagine. Go to Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA.org) and see. Start with the last year’s legislative recap here.

Josh Ostroff, interim director, spoke today on the aims and needs. We are two transit geeks, who love everything from trains to bikes (and tolerate cars as needed). Among our fast-talking topics were:

  • transportation equity, getting everyone including the poor from where they live to where they work or want to play quickly, safely and affordably
  • maintaining roads, bridges and rails
  • planning, building and repairing for multi-modal transit
  • transit for the “unrich’ who don’t have choices for work, education, and just getting around

Regular readers and listeners know I’m big on transit. I expect more shows with principals of T4MA. Meanwhile, look through the site for what fits your interest. Consider the T4MA half day conference Fast Forward to saturate yourself in the subject.

icon for podpress  T4MA Transit Equity [30:14m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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No! Town, Boston

You want to do something exciting and edgy? Boston will watch from a distance.

Let’s not talk about the old Banned-in-Boston literature and performance. Let’s not talk about Blue Laws. Let’s come to recent times, the past few years

The mayor, other pols, and citizens have defeated:

  • Summer Olympics
  • More, easy-to-get liquor licenses
  • A single F1 car race
  • In town casino
  • 24-hour mass transit
  • Late-night mass transit

What gives in a city, town really, that loves to brag it is world class? Alas, Adam Gaffin over at universalhub.com is like spot on when it call this the city that always sleeps.

A few centuries ago, Boston and Charleston SC were seen as sister cities. Their social conservatism accounted for much of the zeitgeist. They did develop stifling Blue Laws together. Boston also hid behind Puritans, then and still it ducks behind its Roman Catholicism. Those were supposed to account for and excuse the petty and nasty limits on human behavior, speech and even thought.

I’ve lived in Boston for 36 years, after a decade in Manhattan. I draw my conclusions on why this town will live vicariously through its huge student population and asthenic arts life, as though that was plenty of vitality and creativity for everyone. Harrumph.

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MBTA Fair Fares Podcast

The MA legislature and recent governors have lacked vision, and still do on mass transit. They look for shortcuts, quick fixes and binary left-brained answers to questions that should demand deep analysis and keen insights.

Residents, particularly those in the Boston area, will get another fare hike of between 9 and 10%. It makes life harder on poorer citizens and solves absolutely none of the T’s troubles.

I talk a bit about the absurd and irrational debt service, about the shameful forward-funding scheme the legislature pile on the MBTA, and why they won’t even consider admitting they thoroughly blew it, much less try to fix it.

When these hikes are under discussion, a few of us call and yell and write and testify that they need to ask meaningful questions. The only one they seem to come up with is not meaningful, rather it is “How big a fare raise and we get?”

Honk. Wrong question.

My rant is has two sides. First and most obvious is fix the damn funding blunder, so the T can have cash flow for operations and maintenance. Harder but more important is asking what we want and expect from the T.

The answer is not the stupid one — on-time trains that are clean and safe. Those should be sine qua non. No, if we want mass transit to be affordable for getting all from where they live to where they work, if we want it to reduce vehicular traffic, noise, pollution and other congestion, we need to be willing to subsidize it like we do with cars and trucks.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report on T funding is here.

icon for podpress  MBTA Fair Fares: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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OK, No Boston Olympics; Get to Work

Wring hands and rend garments…or not. Boston won’t host the 2024 Summer Olympics, as a big fish might not host a lamprey eel.

I spoke of why we simultaneously backed out of the bid as the US Olympics Committee told us to get lost. Fundamentally the catalyst came when the USOC visited and our Mayor Marty Walsh said in effect, “If you won’t tell me what I’m signing up for, I won’t sign.” Frankly both the International (iOC) and the USOC are accustomed to in fact demand, obeisance. Walsh is a simple man from the land of the maple trees (Guantanamera), not palms and ring or butt kissing aren’t his habits.

Of course the queering of the deal involves a lot more and I got into some of it.

More important, I am on the side of the many who not only resent the don’t-you-worry-your-pretty-little-head attitude of both the national and local proponents of the bid, but also stomp and point to the big promise. The USOC and Boston 2024 folk said repeatedly that we need this and that (infrastructure improvements, transit overhaul, affordable housing), and that we’d do it only under the deadline pressure of the Olympics bid.

We do need those things, but diluting our resources of money and time with Olympics folly can only delay or prevent that. Instead we need:

  • a governor, mayor, and legislative leaders committed to achieving these improvements
  • a clear and precise vision of where we want to go with mass transit, roads, housing and such

So far our newish governor, Charles D. Baker, has not shown himself a visionary. Moreover, our legislators are capons scratching the Beacon Hill yards clucking, “No new taxes. No new taxes.”

They may not have guts and smarts on their own. Yet with the passions educed from this 18-month bid process, the public has gotten a taste for improvements.

icon for podpress  Olympics '24 Banned in Boston [25:28m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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The Terrorist Verdict and the T Report

Two big developments this week will show the nature of Boston and Massachusetts. Now convicted terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will shortly be sentenced to life without parole or death. For something completely different, newish Gov. Charlie Baker got his Special Panel report on how to fix mass transit in MA.

MA law has forbidden executions for over 60 years. Polling shows only a quarter to a third of citizens would ever consider the death penalty. Yet the 12 jurors are starting the penalty phase for the Boston Maraton bomber and if unanimous, they could condemn him to death at some distant federal facility out of state.

I discussed the likelihood of the sentence options.

For that something different, the rushed task force to define the T’s problems and present remedies almost met it deadline to product Back on Track: An action Plan to Transform the MBTA. Click the link for a 49-page Power Point PDF file.

The panel listed under the weight of the former exec of NY’s MTA and a Harvard prof who writes books on the likes of privatizing mass transit. While there are insightful and useful judgments, it falls short in many ways, such as any vision at all of what the MBTA should do and be. It does, however, manage to whitewash Baker’s role in creating the T’s troubles in a previous MA administration.

I talk about what I see as good and bad in the report.

Among my punchlines is that the huge hole in the report was a lack of vision — the august panel seemed to have no sense of where the T should head. Yeah, yeah, a 5 or 20-year plan, but the assumption clearly is that we want the same T, just more cost effective. Triple, “No!” on that.

Instead, there are achievable visions of a T that is too good not to take. You leave your car at home or in a station lot because the T is fast, inexpensive, clean, frequent and reliable. You know, like most of Europe’s as well as the West Coast BART and such. To get to the future with far fewer noisy, dangerous, polluting, congestion-making cars, you need to define that destination and design the system that gets us there.

icon for podpress  The T and The Terrorist [26:56m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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Murphy’s Lawmaking Podcast

Steve Murphy at micBoston Councilor Steve Murphy came on to discuss what the city, the mayor, the council and he have been doing. Individually and collectively, that’s quite a bit.

We’ve had a new mayor (Marty Walsh) for a year following the 20-year tenure of Tom Menino. We’ve had outrageous snow and public transit failings. For pluses, crime hasn’t been terrible and our economy is doing well.

On its face, the Council has one primary legal charge — analyzing, tweaking and approving the multi-billion-dollar budget annually. In that sense, Murphy is THE MAN. He is the money guy, the councilor others turn to to answer can we afford that and if we do this, what will it cost?

Beyond the budget, Boston’s Council really is a legislative body. It studies all big issues, creates and helps direct policies, and works with the mayor’s office to identify, prevent and solve serious problems. That’s where Murphy sees himself adding value. This is an election year for all nine district and four at-large councilors. Murphy has always been at-large, having to be one of four convincing the entire city to elect him.

Listen in as Murphy addresses:

  • The new and previous mayors, how they differ
  • The conflict between council and mayor on a committee to advance Latino and Black men and boys, and who the council ended up having its way
  • Why he and fellow Councilor Michelle Wu are advancing a BYOB option for the many restaurants without any liquor licenses
  • What the Council wants to do about getting the damned snow off the streets, maybe like Toronto does
  • How Boston has handled losses of $200 million in federal and state subsidies
  • Quality-of-life issues only parents of asthmatic kids may think of, like filtering older construction equipment operating in town
  • New technologies in the works, including enhanced 911
  • Adding that pesky Styrofoamâ„¢ (a.k.a. polystyrene foam) to single-stream recycling

Even though we know each other pretty well, Murphy wouldn’t bite on my request for more info on his pending reelection campaign. It is true enough that papers aren’t really due and the candidates won’t be set for a couple of months. However, he isn’t showing his hand yet.

icon for podpress  Steve Murphy [30:27m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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Baker Budget Podcast

What’s said and unsaid is rarely as pointed as when money is involved. Add a heavy dose of politics and poof! you have budget proposals.

MA’s newish Gov. Charlie Baker made his first and it was pretty good theater. I hit the highlights and some of the things unsaid.

Look at his whole budget proposal here.

On the face of it, this is level funded. It does grow by 3% to $38 billion, but most parts of government will get effective slashes with no inflation or room to hire. Schools through UMASS level, local aid (state revenue sharing), and the MBTA (our subway, commuter rail, bus and such) get a boost. Numerous small sensible programs like Down syndrome pilot and prostate disease research are gone.

Baker doesn’t go for anything hard here. Most notably, he does not attack the terrible underfunding and debt assigned to the MBTA. That’s not surprise as he was a key player in a previous Republican administration that structured all that. Instead, he fashions and repeatedly presents himself as a turn-around manager, a fixer.

I describe where he expects revenues to come from while he keeps his no-new-or-raised-taxes pledge. Some are questionable sources.

This proposal goes to the legislature for each house to reject, refine or reform before the real negotiations head to a July 1 balanced-budget deadline. I see it as a savvy PR and political program by Baker. He repeated told his press conference announcing the budget he inherited a big deficit. He clearly paints himself as a savior and fixer…sounds like someone setting up to run for VP or even Prez in 2020 or 2024.

icon for podpress  Charlie Baker's First Budget [27:20m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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Is Boston Broken?

Snow, even lots of it, in New England is not some wacky act of God, on a par with tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal waves and such. Boston’s inability to clear its streets and the MBTA’s to run its trains, buses and trolleys says bad things about us.

I looked at those and beyond. Let’s recall the inane reactions to the toy LED displays of Mooninites. The other 9 or 10 cities who got a couple of these took ’em down and went on. We paralyzed roads and waterways. This goes to a silly post-9-11 paranoia that permeates our society even beyond here.

I suggest fixes in several areas, some very hard. Several require both vision and courage of our Mayor and our Governor.

icon for podpress  Is Boston Broken? [28:05m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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February Boston Updates

Boston City HallSnow is more than a conversation starter in Boston. It’ll be a serious catalyst for fights and changes.

I talk about how our mayor and governor have been forced into facing phalanges primed for battle. Our subways, commuter rail and buses are shut down. I discussed the underlying causes, but the tow bigs will assign blame. We can hope when the political blood dries, we can get to those base causes.

Otherwise, I talked about some of the pending actions and excitement, mostly in city hall. The terrible weather has delayed guest scheduling, but I’ll try to line up some of the most active city councilors — Steve Murphy (BYOB scheme), Josh Zakim (casino referendum for November), and Tit Jackson (commission for Black and Latino men and boys).

If we ever see 32F or higher again, it’ll warm in Boston. Meanwhile, we can be sure the political climate heats up.

icon for podpress  Feb. 2015 Boston Updates [24:08m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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