MBTA Service Cuts

The MBTA has proposed service cuts among other measures to balance its budget — specifically by ending weekend service on some commuter rail lines and by trimming the zone in which they offer rides to persons with disabilities back to the zone required by federal law.

Some have urged me to speak out against the cuts, which account for $17 million out of $49 million in budget balancing measures proposed within the total budget of $1.95 billion.

Of course, as an advocate both for green transportation and for people who lack transportation options, I’m troubled by the proposed cuts.

But as a seasoned observer of the MBTA, I intend to hold my fire and let them work through their budget process.

The current management team has been working very hard to break out of the typical cycle in which health care, pensions, collective bargaining agreements and other costs rise faster than available revenue.

Throughout the year, they have been making and implementing proposals to control costs. Ultimately, nonetheless, the MBTA board will need to make some difficult choices.

Prior boards have often sought assistance from the legislature to make the choices more palatable. Through the decades, state support of public transportation has grown to substantial levels — essentially, the state (with the help of cities and towns in the service area) pays all the debt service of the MBTA and roughly half of its operating costs.

I don’t see the legislature altering the support structure for the MBTA this year.

First, we have a Governor and a T board who are very committed to living within their available resources and are unlikely to ask for more funding. Second, as eager as I am to support public transportation, this is not a year in which I see a real likelihood of new state resources becoming available. The Governor’s budget proposal for next year depends on an unpopular and unlikely proposal to levy new penalties on businesses that do not provide health care for their employees.

By the time the legislature is acting on the budget — or perhaps in the months after we act on the budget — we may be facing much greater financial problems as President Trump and the Republican majorities in Congress cut federal support for health care and other state programs.

Finally, in 2018, the people will have the choice of voting on the ballot for more transportation funding through increased taxes. The legislature is unlikely to get ahead of that decision.

Beyond the financial realities, I think there is another practical reality: The MBTA management team is human and has finite bandwidth. Because they are ultimately dependent on legislative support, they have to fully respond to legislators. Legislators distract them from their mission of making the system work by raising longshot demands for additional service and by making tough choices tougher by suggesting that the choices are unnecessary.

My sense of the current team is that they are very focused and have made considerable progress on both the operational side and the financial side. They have also used the board structure that the legislature created to support a robust, ongoing public conversation about the T’s capital program.

I’m certainly not endorsing any of the proposed cuts, and if an opportunity emerges for the legislature to mitigate the cuts, I will be supportive. But for now, we politicians need to let the MBTA board do its job of publicly vetting the options and making hard choices.

Some responses (3/19, 4PM)

I’ve read through the comments through Sunday afternoon at 4PM [and now through March 27] and I thank everyone for engaging.

  • I agree passionately  with all those who spoke of the importance of public transportation, from a climate standpoint, from an economic development standpoint, from an equity standpoint and from a quality of life standpoint.
  • I have always been and remain a strong and active advocate for more transit funding — gas tax, carbon tax, general revenues, local options — I’m all there, because I really believe we should stand behind public transit and expand it.
  • But long term transit improvement is one thing, the next year’s budget is another.  I do believe that we have to let the T Board listen to the public, get additional data and make their decision.  It is important that they are able to say ‘no’ or ‘not any more’ from time to time.  If they don’t make choices necessary to balance their operating budget, they will eat into their capital budget.  Decades of exactly that behavior is what got us where we are today.
  • I think most commenters understood this, but “Commuter Rail” does not mean subways or buses. There are no proposed cuts in subway or bus service. Commuter Rail means the railroad trains that run to the further suburbs.

I will make sure that the MBTA has the opportunity to review the feedback provided by all of you here.  I fully support riders and others making their feelings known to the MBTA — that is an important part of the process.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

136 replies on “MBTA Service Cuts”

  1. I agree with you.

    I voted for Baker in large part because I saw him as a pragmatist who will roll up his sleeves and get work done. I didn’t expect him to fix the T in 2 years, and he seems genuine in his concern for it. I’m willing to give him the room he and his board need to make their decisions, and judge him on the results next election.

  2. We should be increasing services and promoting the use of the rail system, not reducing services. I use the Rockport line at weekends and the loss of service would be terrible.

    Reducing services for the disabled who are probably least able to find alternatives is simply cruel.

    We are fast heading to a third world transportation system, not a modern 21st century one.

    Fight these cuts!

    1. We should keep in mind that public transportation is only ecologically sensible when it is operating at high volumes relative to capacity. At off hours when trains are nearly empty, using heavy equipment with high fuel use (and a large carbon footprint) is wasteful. In those cases personal vehicles are more efficient.

      1. It’s not that simple.

        If I end up getting a car because of this, now I’m one of you drivers again. Now my friend over in Coolidge Corner will ask me to help her run all her errands, and I’ll add to city congestion becoming just another average lazy, car dependent american driving his quarter mile trips and complaining about parking and traffic in the city. Finally, I’ll give up entirely and fully join the mainstream (CO2 reduction is looking pretty hopeless in this country, and more widely, after all) and ask myself why I’m spending what I’m spending for what’s more or less a not very nice student dorm building and move somewhere cheaper, larger (but leaking heat out every wall), and that requires me to drive in to work each day.

        1. I was thinking as a protest towards the general populace (I blame primarily the people not the leaders) not being enthusiastic about transit those of us who find ourselves forced to drive because of cuts like this should always drive the minimum speed. Driving slowly should use less gas too I think. How slow can you drive around here before you get ticketed?

          1. If you’re not in the left-most lane, simply sticking to the speed limit is a good start.

            Whether driving more slowly saves energy depends a whole heck of a lot on what car you are driving, what speed, and whether you’re stopping and starting. In heavy traffic, hanging back enough so that you never tap your brakes almost guarantees savings, but very low speeds by themselves don’t necessarily save energy (again, it depends on the car, I think electric and hybrids do better here).

      2. What evidence is there that low-occupancy trains are less efficient than single-occupancy cars? Railroads advertise how much more efficient they are than trucks for carrying freight, but I haven’t seen figures for passengers (at any occupancy).

  3. Senator: What are the ridership numbers on the, I’m guessing Fitchburg line? I see it come through seemingly empty while walking the dog through the center. I understand the per rider subsidy on the weekend is around 35 bucks as opposed to 5 on a weekday. Is this correct? Is there a sense of numbers who takes the commuter rail for work on weekends?

    1. Thanks, Scott. Yes, those numbers are pretty striking. The per rider subsidy numbers appear at page 32 of this budget presentation. They range from $19 per weekend-rider-trip on the Lowell Line to over $100 per weekend-rider-trip on the Greenbush, Kingston and Fairmount lines.

      2013 ridership numbers appear at page 4-6 of the “Bluebook”: 2000 to 3000 daily trips (counting round trip as two) on weekend days on the busiest lines. But hard to know how many of those are commutes as opposed to pleasure trips.

  4. It seems to me that we are going to have to make many decisions in the next 4 years that we really wish we didn’t have to, and it is incredibly important that politicians do exactly what you’ve done here: Explain succinctly the reasons that lead you decide on the difficult choice you’ve made. Bravo!

  5. CALPERS negotiates rates for some expensive medical care. I don’t know exact figures, but take knee replacements. They negotiate a price of $30k, and list 30 hospitals that will do it for that price. You want to pay $70k somewhere else, fine, they will contribute $30k, you are on hook for rest.

    We need to be more aggressive in controlling medical costs for all people.

  6. Will, I worry about privatization of the T. I went to school in Hartford, CT. I did not have a car and depended on the bus service. The service in Hartford was poor. Owned by a private company. No service at night to and fro from the campus. I was so used to the MBTA frequency of service and the evening hours the busses and T offered. Hitchhiked a lot in those days.

    In other words, the T is a public service to greater Boston not a private company. I know folks living in the cities and towns depending on the commuter train to come into Boston for work and pleasure on the weekends. How can we abandon those folks and the money they earn and spend? Maybe the idea of the bus service would work. Just don’t abandon the riders.

    1. HI Lois, I agree that the MBTA is a true and necessary public service, although interestingly enough, it was once all private — until the automobile bankrupted local commuter rail road in the 40s. I am confident it will remain so — too hard to make money doing what the T does; no private entity will try.

  7. Agreed. The MBTA board is the proper place for tradeoffs to be made and decisions weighed on services to be offered. The legislature’s role is not to serve as a second MBTA board.

    1. Disagree. The MBTA board is appointed and is not accountable to the people who fund the T. Legislators are accountable and that is why they must exercise oversight of the MBTA Board and the Fiscal Control Board. Otherwise the riding and taxpaying public have no representation.

  8. I’m one of the people who uses that service. Since my son’s mom has moved from Watertown to Holyoke that’s how we do my weekend visits, by my meeting them halfway using the Worcester line. So obviously, personally, I would really appreciate it if there’s any way you can help keep that line running, if that’s something you want to do. My son and I were really excited about the new Boston Landing station opening in the spring too (though I was wondering if the train would actually stop there on the weekend if no New Balance employees were likely to be on it), so this is all very disappointing.

    Not sure if there’s much of a general argument I can make. Maybe I wouldn’t even care if I didn’t use this line. Well, I could make the argument I did when I wrote the Governor’s office stating my idea that lower ridership on the weekend shouldn’t be looked at as a simple one dimensional number, because the prerequisite for keeping people out of cars aren’t only to provide for their frequent commuting trips but also to make their occasional leasure trips possible. But I’m sure you’re well versed in such arguments. (The Governor I’m not so sure.) When we get into the 2020s, how are we going to meet our CO2 reduction goals if we’re taking away options for people who don’t want to drive cars. Oh yeah, we’ll just make all the cars electric and we’ll repeat (huh? how? and what if natural gas prices ever go up?) reducing grid based
    emissions. Oh, one other thing, there are always a couple people in wheelchairs on these lines. Note sure what they’ll be doing without them. Not going where they were going I’m going to guess.

    Nice to know about that transportation spending referendum question. If I can get my citizenship in time I’ll definitely vote yes for that (and against this Governor). On the other hand, maybe I’m cynical, but I’m guessing this question would go the way of the gas tax in the general vote and then those on the right could say, “the people have spoken,” as they continue to dismantle public transit or at least leave lackluster options. I could move back to Canada, but the Montreal to Holyoke trip is way less feasible than the Boston to Holyoke one ;).

    I don’t know what to suggest. Your judgement always seems very good (and you at least can count on my vote if I can get the vote), but I’m very bummed about this.

    1. I don’t know if this is helpful, but Greyhound buses also go to Worcester and depending on time of day, it’s actually sometimes cheaper than the train.

      1. I’ll be looking into that. I think it’s Peter Pan not Greyhound. The trouble is that riding that kind of bus is more like taking a plane in that you’re supposed to show up 30 minutes to an hour early and the time of departure is only an estimate to within 30 minutes. People like to rag on the commuter rail being late but most of the time it’s within a minute or two of its posted time. Even with that, when I do my Sunday afternoon drop off I have to give an hour for the B line to get down to Yawkey and spend around an hour in Grafton — or rather a parking lot with train tracks next to it somewhere near Grafton — waiting to come back (for some reason my son’s Mom thinks Worcester is scary — sorry Worcester, I don’t agree myself — any people I’ve met from there seemed really cool, more comfortable to deal with for this out of the mainstream fashion and economic pulse Canadian Maritimer). All told it’s around 5 hours til I’m back home again. The Boston Landing station will help this a lot if we can take it weekends. Having to get to back bay (if that’s even an option) or south station and leaving that extra play for the bus schedules, now I suspect I’m back to what I figured when she wanted me to meet her in Springfield. I.e. I leave early Saturday, bring my son home, read him a story and put him to bed, then we get up early Sunday morning and take the bus back to Springfield.

        I’m going to guess Zipcar will be my solution if it becomes necessary. I’ve made a pact with myself that I won’t own a car again. I hope some of you, when your current car runs down, will join me in that pact.

  9. Couldn’t a solution be utilization of express buses on the weekend? If ridership on some lines on weekends is down to a single car, a bus following the same route should be able to accommodate the level of ridership. More frequent buses, perhaps replicating the weekday schedule, could even increase weekend ridership. The staffing and equipment costs for operating this weekend express bus service should be far less than the current infrequent weekend rail service.

    1. No, one car of a train holds a few buses worth of people. Also, when I take the Worcester line on Sunday afternoons they fill two cars including a double decker. It would be a lot of buses. Finally, what buses? As I understand it one of the reasons your bus sometimes seems to not show up in this system is from when red line construction happens and buses are run to replace a segment of that. They don’t in fact have enough buses to run their usual routes and substitute for a broken down stretch of rail.

  10. Senator,

    Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts and hosting this forum. The Department of Revenue estimates that the Fair Share “millionaires” tax would raise an additional $1.9 billion in 2019 (http://www.masslive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/05/massachusetts_legislature_vote.html). This money could be used for education and transportation.

    If passed, do you believe this will be sufficient to fund the needs of the MBTA and MassDOT? Not just to maintain the status quo but to modernize and expand services for decades to come (both for big projects like South Coast Rail, North South Rail Link, South Station Expansion, the wide variety of projects suggested in https://www.mbtafocus40.com/, etc etc)?

    Other cities are ambitiously expanding transit. Massachusetts is falling behind, but why?
    LA is one good example
    Map of transit expansion since 1990 – https://www.metro.net/interactives/flash/metrorail_timeline/
    Sales tax increase will generate $120 billion over 40 years – http://www.scpr.org/news/2016/11/09/66020/la-votes-on-measure-m-tax-increase-to-fund-transpo/)

    Regards
    Harry

  11. I have been watching this debate; I tend to agree with the argument (mentioned here as well as in the press) that habits will change such that the effects of even a short suspension (e.g., 1-2 years) won’t be undone by restoration of the current (very modest) level of service. I am UNimpressed with the argument that the MBTA board should do what it does without legislative meddling; the board is historically less than attentive to the needs of the riding public, and seems even less so now that it answers to a Republican governor.

  12. The root issue is the high cost of transportation infrastructure — roads, bridges, railways, cars, etc. As a society, we spend a large fraction of our income in moving people and goods, but still suffer from the congestion, pollution, and crashes. Transit X will be demonstrating a low-cost mass transit system this fall which has the capacity, cost, and convenience to replace cars, buses, trains, and trucks with solar-powered pods. We can profitably serve both suburbs and cities — without public funding or subsidies.

  13. Cant we call this a defense initiative and tap the 55 Billion our President proposes for Military? Many Veterans use public transportation and the Armed Forces have stated their commitment to Green initiatives.

  14. The T is a losing project. The people who run it are over paid with outrage pensions. The system has been run into the ground over the years. It needs more than budget cuts.

  15. Sorry, Senator, but i find this a very discouraging post. You may be right that the MBTA management team is on the case, doing what it can. But these cuts are unconscionable. If the MBTA can’t do better with its current resources, then it’s the job of the legislature to find more revenue. If the governor won’t agree that the very wealthy people who benefit from our superb infrastructure need to pay more to support it, then override the governor. But don’t just say we’re gutting our transit system and there’s nothing to be done.This is the sort of challenge that brings out the greatness in legislators.

    1. “Gutting” our transit system? The service cuts amount to less than 1% of the costs of the system ($17 million out of $1.95 billion)? Do you really feel that’s the right way to look at cuts of that magnitude? And in terms of value and ridership, it’s an even smaller share as these are very least efficient parts of the system.

    2. I agree wholeheartedly with your post brent. Cutting MBTA service at this point, is indicative of a failure of leadership. It is the job of our electeds to figure out a way to provide the services that people need. We need the true leaders to step up and confront our transportation problems boldly. Political calculation will not win the day. Effective leadership will.

  16. I am not pleased that the MBTA has proposed to cut commuter rail til 2018 since a great amount of people I know who I work with rely heavily getting to work to and from. It will present some people maybe leaving their present jobs. I do understand the upgrading, etc., but perhaps the hours be cut on some rails and not the entire commuter rail such as shut down after 11pm and work is done til 5am.

    1. Diana, midweek cuts are not on the table. This is about weekend service. Do you know a lot of people who ride commuter rail to work on the weekends? It would be helpful to the conversation to know roughly where they work. That would be an important consideration.

      1. Yes, they work at Saks Fifth Avenue and a lot take commuter rail on weekends for transportation.

  17. Sounds like a complex situation, Will. What I don’t understand from your analysis is what you believe the outcome will be if you “hold your fire”?

    Could you explain that a bit more, please.

    1. I don’t know what the outcome will be. But I do know that years of underfunding of maintenance are, in part, the result of political pressure to have the cake (services) and eat it too (not pay more).

      The only way the T’s leadership can please everyone is by pushing problems into the future.

  18. Bus 74 75 service is minimal at present–it would be cruel to working people to cut it back any further. I hope that
    this is not an issue before the MBTA Board!!!!!!!!!

  19. A good start would be to stop any further expansion until the current system is functioning better; from what I’ve read the Greenbush line cost over a billion dollars and is lightly used. I frequently ride the Fitchburg line off peak and find the schedule extremely poor, with 2 hour+ gaps between trains, which are mostly late anyway. It seems to be a catch-22 situation, is the service poor because there are few riders or are the riders few because the schedule stinks?
    How about using Buddliners aka BDU’s for off peak and weekend service? Got to be more efficient than a huge locomotive pulling 6 or more cars, of which only 1 or 2 are open anyway.

  20. This is a very discouraging post. Cutting services is backward thinking when we need to encourage MORE use of public transportation–especially now that the new administration is denying climate change and slashing EPA funding. A tax on carbon could raise more funds for public transportation while also cutting CO2 emissions. I urge you to make your voice heard, rather than being silent.

    1. I’m a strong advocate for the carbon tax and for additional transportation funding through the FY18 ballot question.

      I’m just saying that, in the best case, neither one makes a difference to the T’s FY18 budget.

  21. Senator, I think the key question is do you think the MBTA should use the additional state assistance of $187 million for operating or capital. The MBTA leadership is saying they have to balance the operating budget without the additional funding. If they used some of the $187 million they are already getting from the state for operating and not put it all in the capital budget, they wouldn’t have to make these or other cuts.

  22. What you wrote makes sense. The Board, fom all I have read over the last year or so, is practical, not ideological. That said, there are two things I think they should consider. Related to commuter rail lines, they should consider cutting Sunday service but not Saturday, when so many more riders use it. Also, parking is free in Boston on Sunday. But more importantly, I hate that they ended late night service. Restaurants are having enough trouble finding workers, and having to pay more for them in salary and benefits. Late night service helps staff and customers. With the increase in Boston of people without cars, the MBTA should have service until 2am, at least on Saturday.

  23. I am dependent on the commuter rail on the weekends. I and many other people, those who don’t drive, young people, and many others going into Boston for cultural activities, must use the commuter rail or enjoy leaving their cars at home and being ecologically wise. Why a prosperous state like Massachusetts can’t provide regular and reliable daily commuter-rail service seems absurd. We try to cut down on the use of fossil fuels and to keep our air breathable. Please explain this false economy.

    1. Hi Nancy, could you share more about how you are dependent on weekend commuter rail service? Commuter rail is not subways or buses. It is the heavy rail that goes to the far suburbs. Please feel free to do so offline to my email if you prefer.

  24. Thanks for the thoughts, Will. I do think it is difficult to process these cuts without knowing how they will affect ridership. Also, it is difficult enough to get around on area roads on the weekends, so I think we would have to anticipate that this places some cars back on the road and increases congestion. Most importantly, though, I really hate to see the support offered disabled riders reduced. If there were a way to make changes without negatively impacting the disabled, the proposed changes would be just a tad more palatable.

  25. I’ll support you in holding your fire, could I suggest independent actions that might help the T do more with what money they have?

    Heavily traveled lines — the examples I know are #77 on Mass Ave, #73 and #71 on Trapelo/Belmont/MtAuburn — ought to get signal priority and a dedicated lane. This provides the double win of providing faster service with a smaller number of buses, or faster and more frequent service with the same number of buses. I understand that Cambridge has done some of this for the #1 within Cambridge.

    The gas tax, at minimum, ought to be high enough to completely cover all road maintenance. My understanding is that it falls well short. This will of course slightly raise the cost of driving and thus divert a small number of people towards transit.

    It would be sensible to include a carbon tax for gasoline if carbon is not separately taxed elsewhere (that would be somewhere in the $.10-.30 per gallon range initially — and has been tried in several Canadian provinces, for some years in British Columbia with no particular ill effect). That would also slightly discourage driving and nudge a few people towards transit. The revenue should of course be spread equitably — an educational subsidy is one option, raising the exemption for income tax is another.

    For good fun, read The Amateur Planner ( http://amateurplanner.blogspot.com/ ). He has lots of interesting ideas.

    1. BC’s carbon tax worked very well. A drop in CO2 emissions at least correlates with the tax.

      I like the idea but there’s the problem of demand elasticity. If we’re cutting out the alternatives, meaning we don’t provide other good options to car transportation, raising the cost of it largely just raises its cost.

      1. I think we have plenty of options to blunt the cost of a higher gas tax.

        Near Boston there’s carpooling, biking, and transit — I bike to work in Kendall Square, a friend of mine carpools to work in Natick, and plenty of people where I work take transit.

        Other people (one a friend, another a former colleague) combine bikes and rail to commute from Cambridge/Boston to Providence. Another friend who lives in the high-altitude part of Arlington uses an e-bike to get to/from MIT; the e part of it is mostly for dealing with climbing the hill home at the end. Getting those people out of cars reduces competition for road space and parking, so drivers will get a slightly nicer commute and slightly better choice of parking.

        These choices are less-good for people living further out, so we need to come up with some quid-pro-quo that makes it work for people who live out there — perhaps driving is more expensive, but perhaps that extra revenue is used to provide other tax breaks (some combo of education funding to blunt property tax increases and raising the personal exemption on the income tax, for example).

        1. Yeah, you can do stuff like that if you’re dedicated. I don’t have a car myself and when the green line gets on my nerves and the weather is nice I’ll even walk 6 miles.

          The question is what does the demand curve actually look like with today’s transit system (which is more or less tomorrow, ten years from now, and 20 years from now’s transit system given the Massachusetts voter’s priorities)? You can already save a lot of money not owning a car, but how many people actually do this and who are they? I met a (by words at least very progressive) woman recently who lives in Harvard Square, works in South Station, and commutes by car. I read recently that Stephanie Pollack speaks or writes about a peculiar effect that can happen where you have transit oriented development where the neighbourhoods gentrify with the result that those neighbourhoods see higher car ownership than before. That’s of course not saying more people drive overall, just that the income levels go up and the affordability goes down sometimes when you add transit to a neighbourhood. I share this cause it’s interesting, but what it implies to me is that using price levels to try to stir people into favourable transit modes really can only work when the people you’re targeting are actually squeezed by these higher prices. Those people, because of the cruelty of housing price distributions in this part of the world, are already time impoverished as well to get to their often distint multiple low wage jobs. So we liberals with our high incomes and various options, when we ask for a carbon tax, I wonder if we’re not in fact once again inadvertently effing over these same people who always take it up the …

          I’ve never actually heard if B.C.’s carbon tax had any effect on CO2 from transit or if it came more from heating or commercial and industrial efficiency. I wonder how that aspect played out there.

    2. Thanks, David. I’m on record as with you on all of the above, including the 71/73 bus lane which is actually work in progress for the segment by the Mount Auburn cemetery where the greatest congstion occurs.

  26. Examples of the failure of government vision:

    Do the cities and towns control their own street space? During commuting hours can’t buses move more commuters per lane than cars? Is there is a bus lane on Mount Auburn Street from the City line to Fresh Pond Parkway?

    The MBTA is forced to choose to eliminate weekend rail service and to eliminate car/van services for those who cannot otherwise make weekend connections.

    The future will naturally judge us with heat and flooding far beyond our poor ability to install defenses—far more costly than the political will now to assure transit for the future.

  27. There seems like there have to be more alternatives than cutting services. I know way too many people who could be using public transportation but don’t because it takes too long for them to reach their destination. How do we increase ridership while also increasing reliability.

    I’ve written to the MBTA about the possibility of making dedicated bus lanes. I know they’re busy but never have I heard a response to any of my comments.

    What about placing some level of responsibility on the employer to support and/or subsidize employees public transportation expenses?

    Reducing and/or removing services hurts the very people whose livelihood depends on these modes of transportation. Those who can afford gas, parking and insurance continue to drive our congested roads and filter more heat trapping gases into the environment. Is there any way we can incentive people to use more which will increase MBTA revenues which will then make it impossible for the T to cut services?

  28. Will,
    Your balanced approach makes sense to me. I certainly would urge setting services to the elderly and handicapped
    as priorities.

    Anne Covino Goldenberg

  29. Will, my first reflex was no don’t give any ground on public transportation. Then I thought that we have not used the T for years, so I am just being ideological. I also think that if the weekend cuts go in, there will be time for blowback befoe people vote on the tax increase in 2018 – and you won’t have to get tagged with “tax and spend” label. And, I trust your good judgment! John Merrifield

  30. How are blind people and people who are not physically able to use the T going to get to the doctor’s office or to day programs? This is more of an issue than whether people who are able to drive will have to use their cars. Trump doesn’t care for the environment anyway, Who cares if we have a planet to give our grandkids? Raise taxes on the poor. Give breaks to the rich. Fit right in with national policy. I’m moving to Canada.

  31. It’s always difficult to take service away but, I guess, it has to be done in order to control expenses. I just think it’s too bad that part of the savings will come from taking away some service from the physically impaired. Also, as you said, it’s ashame to take away a “green” service forcing people to use fossil fuel dependent transportation. It’s not an easy balance. The priority is to provide safe, dependable transportation.

  32. The T has been raising fares every 2 years for a while. Every time they tell us it’s necessary so they can provide better service. Meanwhile they eliminate late night service, which was inadequate to start with, and now they’re going after weekend commuter rail. This is no way to be a world-class city in the 21st century. And while T riders get hit with regular fare increases, the gas tax is stuck at a low level. Gas prices are still at a historically low level, so there’s no better time to increase the tax.

  33. Well, per today’s Boston GLOBE, the T has no real idea how many people use the services proposed to be cut, on the weekends. So ’till they do cuts should be on the back burner. They do have some extra tools in their bag to balance this out. One is privatizing repair work. Another is again raising fares. Still another is addressing administrative costs that may be too high. Another going after more AD revenue, perhaps on their own web site.

  34. Will, the tone of your post disturbs me. I had assumed that the threat to halt weekend commuter rail and Ride service was the usual bluster to get people to be serious about greater efficiencies in procurement or maintenance or more sophisticated scheduling. Instead, you seem to suggest that this is a serious proposal.

    There’s nothing sophisticated about these proposed cuts. It’s like when a former Belmont town manager proposed turning off half the street lights in town as a budget measure. This T proposal doesn’t even reckon with the costs of the cuts, apart from the long-run effects.

    As the Globe reported today, and as we in Belmont already knew after discussing the T’s proposal to combine our two commuter rail stops, the T has no actual information about how many people ride the commuter rail. The old counts they had are laughable. They only looked at rush hour commuters and even then not at reverse commuters.

  35. I’m getting really tired of our political leadership assuming that the T is just a “nice-to-have” service. Many people rely on it, including the commuter rail.

    If the cost of running weekend commuter rail service is too high, then our leaders should be looking for ways to reduce cost WITHOUT reducing service. Instead of running huge expensive diesel trains, we should be looking to run smaller DMUs with plans to ultimately electrify all the lines so that we can run cleaner, quieter electric trains.

    If ridership of commuter rail is low, our leaders should be looking for ways to make it more appealing. I can tell you that as it is today, weekend commuter rail service is VERY inconvenient, with 2 to 3 hours between trains, and service that doesn’t start early enough or end late enough.

    MassDOT, MAPC, Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and many other MA cities have put forth goals to increase the number of people riding transit. People are looking for alternatives to driving, and it is our political leadership’s responsibility to give people those alternatives.

    Lastly, I’m sick of the T being used as a political football. Is MassDOT being efficient with it’s highway spending? Who knows. Would anyone ever propose closing highways during times of low usage in order to save money? No way. But T riders constantly have to fight to keep the service we have and to prevent fares from being raised (faster than inflation and much faster than the gas tax has been raised.) We are constantly paying more for less. Enough is enough.

    1. I like this post.

      I don’t think Senator Brownsberger feels that way about non-commuter rail (can we start calling it regional rail instead?) but based on the appearance of the definition here he does seem to have a certain view about regional rail and it being only for “further suburbs” (not his constituents? not anything to do with the urban liberal ideal of tightly clustered housing served by local public transit?). I had a similar view until I started actually relying on the service.

      But let’s allow for a view that sees things narrowly in terms of the very rough estimates of subsidy per passenger. If we’re going to adopt a Charlie Bakeresque accounting view of transit, then how about a proposal on the table to have higher off peak fares. Do it in a way that doesn’t cost too much extra money having to print new kinds of tickets. If it’s the weekend, late on a weeknight, or maybe midday on a weekday, you have to fork over two tickets instead of your usual one unless you qualify for one of MBTA system’s usual budget or senior fares. So a zone 8 ticket is $11 each way now. If you go on a Saturday or Sunday, make it two of those, so $22. For the distance traveled I don’t think that’s so bad. Try getting a cab that far, renting zipcar, or having to buy a car if you don’t have one already. Still a bargain.

      Also, lets make trips to baseball and football games double fare too but for different reasons. Those folks (aside from some of them being annoying as hell for those of us living nearby with their barfing on the green line and so on) are something of a captive customer because of the high congestion getting to these events. And they have money, so ding them with double fares too.

      1. Correction: maybe not a bargain compared to zipcar unless you factor in the train’s “driverless car” benefits in that you can use your time better.

  36. I’ve always thought that ridership could be increased if parking for the T (all types) was free.
    I think folks would prefer parking near home, AND PAYING FOR RIDES rather than extravagant parking fees in Boston.
    And I don’t believe electric trains or buses run cleaner. Somewhere there is a generator, probably burning coal, to power them.

    1. As it says in the article, regarding the consensus of the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation:
      “Thousands of Massachusetts people use the commuter rail each weekend, even though it operates less frequently than weekdays,” they wrote. “In addition to benefiting tourist, recreation and hospitality businesses throughout the Commonwealth, many weekend commuters need reliable service to get to work, medical appointments, and to connect with loved ones. Many of these travelers have no other options to get where they need to go.”

      Elimination of that service cuts people off from vital necessities. We need to be expanding use of public transportation, not reducing it – if we’re to have a sustainable future as a civilization – rather than to be isolating people, as climate catastrophe worsens.

  37. MBTA services, in this case, the commuter rail on the weekends cannot be axed. That is simply not acceptable customer service. If they provided replacement buses that went both local/express stops on a particular line, then I would be slightly ok with it. But there needs to be a serious talk about this and a serious reconsideration. I DO NOT want to pay for more fare hikes if services are being cut and reliability is consistently decreasing!

    I take the commuter rail on certain weekends to meet with my university’s speech team at Brandeis University for weekend conference meetings. I could take the Red Line to Harvard or Porter then take the bus all the way to the university. But local bus frequency is too long on Saturdays and Sundays. In addition, the Red Line has been shut down north of Harvard for the past few weekends and the shuttle buses take too long sitting in traffic. The Fitchburg Line is the better way for me to get to Brandeis University.

    Senator Brownsberger. I get that work needs to be done to get the commuter rail back into a state of good repair. But come up with a plan where commuter rail weekend riders like myself won’t be stranded in getting where we need to be while also accommodating the necessary work that needs to get done for improvements/more reliable service.

  38. Last Friday on WBUR/NPR, I heard a commentator speak on these proposed cuts for Commuter Rail weekend service. He said when he moved to Boston years ago and saw that there was weekend service on the rails, he felt that it was a world class area and was thrilled. I often hear my friends talk about the excellent train and public transportation they experience in their travels to places like Mexico City, Prague, and many other places. As one of the wealthiest nations, states, cities, can’t we afford public transportation?

    Thank you for your work, Senator.

      1. We need a core system that works AND we need a rail next work that connects people to that core system both on weekdays and weekends. This is transit 101, if we want people to use transit they need to have transit, its that simple. If this is about money then suggest we rise the gas tax, if the governor dose not like it, to bad so sad, override his veto and worked to elect a pro urban and pro transit governor next year.

  39. I’ve been thinking more and I take back what I wrote earlier about you being able to count on my vote. Your position’s reasonable enough but why would I vote for someone who doesn’t represent my actual interests.

    And trying again to broaden it out from my selfish interests, let me try this argument:
    you point out this is the least economically efficient part of the system. Well, I’m going to guess before the night owl service was pulled it was only the 2nd least efficient service. What’s the next least efficient service? What will be on the chopping block next time? It’s all very well to be reasonable and understanding to the Republicans, but at a certain point it comes down to this: are you a transit advocate or are you not. Maybe I’ll look out for a more Ralph Nader type candidate and vote for her if she runs.

    p.s. the best computer programmer in my group moved to London, U.K. recently. It was partly he and his girlfriend reflecting on what kind of country this really is as it looked more and more possible that Trump might actually win along with a general disapproval of American culture and its poor support for the arts, but he would also comment (in a nicer way than me) about Boston being a second rate city. He was quite dismayed about Night Owl being cut and the lack of support for the north station / south station link. He wasn’t a driver — never even bothered to get a license — and saw transit as part of what makes a 1st rate city (and his vision of a transit system did seem to include regional rail). Just laying his example out there among the intangibles in play here.

    1. Mike, I’m all about improving public transit and I give a lot of my time to it. It’s a central priority for me.

      I think I’m representing your long term interests (and those of most of my constituents), by trying to let the T focus on getting their core services right.

      If they can never say ‘no’ or ‘not any more’, then it’s much harder for them to make the core improvements need, or, for that matter, to say yes to new and improved services.

      1. I’m sorry, how is it in my long term interest to make me buy a car to carry on my visits with my son this next year? And I’m going to sell the car and take the train again after that?

        I think they can say no to projects to stay to a reasonable budget and still hold to a principle of not taking service away from people who’ve come to depend on it. Southern extension seems a good candidate for this.

        1. I should temper this by saying I do very much appreciate your work on transit issues. I was only saying above that if an unreasonable person ran against you, a kind of left wing kook who was going to reflexively be for all increases and against all decreases, I’d be inclined to support him or her. I think there’s something to be said for the Ralph Nader full-bore opposition, even if in a more rational world (or Canada?) your approach might be better.

            1. Nuance turns to appeasement in the face of irrational or immoral actors. If our civic leaders keep trying to respond to every defeat with resigned acceptance of the lesser evil, this country is going to explode in short order.

              We need to have some serious conversations about federalism. And by “we,” I mean voters and legislators. If people think we’re going to continually downgrade our standard of living so we can keep sending Massachusetts dollars to Mississippi and Alabama, while they continue to tell us how to spend it, they have a very, very rude awakening coming.

  40. Will. I think looking at this in isolation is a mistake. We Keep Hearing about all the things we need to make Boston a world Class city, such as permitting Boston Calling at Harvard, on graduation weekend no less. To really be world class we need much better public transportation, 24/7. Timemtomstop kicking this can down the same
    Old road full of potholes

      1. You make it out as an either/or between the core system and low usage regional, but if they wanted to they could partition the cuts / investments and pull from other ongoing regional projects without it being a case of diverting funds from bus fleet or subway repairs. You want another $10 million? What’s another $10 million taken off the south rail extension, which has a projected ridership of only a few thousand, will cost a couple billion and won’t finish until god knows when.

        Hopefully the Governor will clue into the visibility of this. Does he want his new beancounting board and its supporters to be given proper credit for their financial successes or primarly to be known as that gang that took service from Western mass and the disabled, oh and the baseball fans of course.

        If anyone wants to leave a message with the Governor’s office you can find the number online. Ultimately he’s the one to blame here.

  41. Hi Will, thanks again for the work you do. I don’t feel like I am an expert on public transportation so have to rely on others with more expertise. I was impressed by the comments that there is no data to support any position on the weekend use of the commuter rail. That’s ridiculous in this day and age. If the data supports a reduction, then people will still be upset but will have no defense. We may have to arrange our lives around the rail schedule. Again, it should be easy to figure out the most convenient times for people to go into the city for shopping, restaurants and the theater. Keeping these people in the suburbs is not going to help Boston’s bottom line. I hear that my bus line (77 and 62) may be reducing the number of stops. I can’t argue with that if they have the data to support it. They should also have the capacity to make sure that the trains are scheduled in conjunction with the bus schedules so that one doesn’t arrive at the station to find that the train just pulled away. That’s not a problem during the busy commuter hours but it is a disaster in the middle of the day. As much as I hate to suggest this, they should look at the airline schedules. They have been very good at shoe-horning us into their schedule because we have no choice. They also charge different rates based on the day of the week and the time of day. Everything should be on the table to make sure that we maintain necessary services. People buy houses and choose communities based on available public transit services and we can’t pull the rug out from under them! Thanks again.

  42. No Cuts to Weekend Commuter Rail Service, No cuts to the Ride. Every other major commuter rail system in the country has weekend service, many people really on it to get to jobs in the city on the weekends, as well as sporting events and other activities in Boston, furthermore many people who live in town and dont have cars like to able to take the train to the beach in the summer, or day trips to places like Rockport, Newburyport and Providence, its one of the best things about living hear. Eliminating weekend service punishes people who dont have cars, encourages more driving/pollution/congestions and will ultimately hurt the economy, furthermore Boston will not be able to call its self “world class city” if we do not have a regional rail network that runs 7 days a week. New York, Chicago, Philly, London, Paris and San Francisco have this, and would not even dream about getting rid of it. Also please enough with this talk of how the T has to make “difficult choices.” If the T was serious about making “difficult choices” they would at least consider rising the gas tax to pay for infrastructure and close there budget gap. Until the T at least considers that asa possible option there should be NO talk of how the T needs to make hard choices or that one of those choices is getting rid of services such as Weekend Commuter Rail and the RIDE. As for the proposed cuts to the RIDE, I find it sadly unsurprising that while Republicans in Washington prepose new ways to limit peoples financial access to healthcare and funding for meals on wheels that helps feed people with limited mobility, the Republicans on Beacon Hill, such as Charlie Baker and Stephanie Pollack are trying to literally limit peoples access to healthcare and food. This is shameful and we are better this in Massachusetts.

    1. I Agee with you 500% Gabriel. Always the ridership is asked to suffer cuts. We need real leadership instead. Governor?

    2. There should be No cuts on the Commuter Rail lot of People use the Commuter Rail to get in and out of Downtown Boston every Day. The Ride lot of Special Needs Adults use the The Ride every Day To Cut the The Ride will be very Bad.

  43. I 100% support Governor Charlie Baker’s efforts in fixing the mbta mess. As a rider, I’ve noticed major improvement taking the bus and the subway this winter vs 2 years ago especially with the snow. The bottom line is getting quality service and if it means privatizing the mbta, so be it. The MBTA still has ways to go but compared to now vs pre Charlie Baker, it’s a marked improvement. I am actually a lifelong democrat, who very well may support a republican for the first time since Ralph Martin for Suffolk DA.

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