The MBTA’s well-documented slow zone expansion has frustrated many. I want to summarize my current perspective on the subway challenges.
I’m a current and life-long transit rider and I viscerally love the T. I always appreciate being able to leave the driving to others. As a legislator, I have followed the T’s challenges closely.
For many years, I have repeated the mantra that to improve reliability we need to “focus on state of good repair.” With switch components dated before World War I and subway vehicles dated before the end of the Vietnam war, it seemed obvious that renewing the infrastructure was the central challenge facing the T.
For me, that has meant that we should not distract management with expansion demands, but should allow them to focus on repairing tunnels and replacing track, signal, power, and vehicles.
Under Governor Patrick and Governor Baker, annual capital spending on modernization and repair increased radically. The T is now spending between $1.5 and $2 billion every year on capital projects, mostly for modernization and repair. The T’s latest capital plan is out for review.
With all the money that has been spent, and much of it spent well, why are we in such poor shape? First, of course, the maintenance deficit that we have to dig out of is deep.
But more, not all of the projects have gone well, notably the procurement of the new cars for the Red Line and the Orange Line. Perhaps, we added fatal complexity by insisting that the cars be assembled in western Massachusetts. At the time, it seemed like an acceptable accommodation to secure statewide support for a multi-billion dollar Boston project.
As the schedule has continued to slip, the decision to stage car assembly locally looks like a bad one. Getting that contract back on track is one of the thorniest challenges facing the Governor and her transportation team.
But the greater challenge is rebuilding the safety culture of the T. Dreary basics like checklists and inspections apparently haven’t gotten enough attention. The T is struggling to redevelop and enforce basic safety procedures.
At the same time, personnel turnover, combined with the nationwide shortage of transportation professionals, is making it harder for the T to strengthen safety oversight and even to assign personnel to meet previous service expectations.
Many observers, including me, thought that new equipment would solve the system’s problems. But it’s clear now that the human challenges are at least as great as the infrastructure challenges.
In any complex system, a lot of things have to be perfect for the system to function as intended. Right now a lot of things are not perfect in the MBTA. Until a lot more things are perfect, we are not going to get the service we want.
Meanwhile, commutes will be longer and less reliable. No promises should be made or believed.
But I do believe this: There are a lot of good people at all levels in the T and they care about the work they do. As a legislator, I will be doing everything I can to support them and the Governor as they struggle to rebuild public trust.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. Our transit system is a disgrace – inefficient and understaffed is one thing but deadly is and should be unacceptable. I think the responsibility needs to be placed where the power in this state and the city lies – our elected officials. Suburban politicians too often pass this off as a Boston problem. I think it will only get worse as outlying communities no longer need to move in and out of the City for work. Massachusetts is a small-minded state – with too many people looking no further than their own town limits. Boston can only do so much to carry this state, especially when we are not even able to govern ourselves without being yanked back by having to beg the state house for favors.
In addition to the slow and unreliable service, the T fails to meet a basic standard of cleanliness and good repair in the stations. Since the ceiling collapse incident in the Harvard station, I now look up and try to wait on a part of the platform where the ceiling is tiled. The #1 bus needs a dedicated bus priority lane on more of Mass Ave. Commuting by the T is a miserable experience all around.
The Red Line to Orange Line walkway at Downtown Crossing is crumbling away and being held up by jacks. The workers who toil away for others’ abhorrent profits could get a little more respect with a less decrepit transportation system.
Now that the tiles have been removed all that muck water is dripping down. When is the MBTA going to power wash the ceiling and install drip pans?
When is the D.o.T and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers going to do a column by column inspection of the subways and bridges over the rails?
There have been architects end engineers of several Boston buildings made of bad concrete who have gone to jail. That garage that collapsed and the compromised column above North Station which needs to be short up and trains to slow down to prevent excess vibrations.
My hope is that Martha Coakley oops I mean Maura Healey will get out ahead of any disaster and not just respond to one like say a tunnel, or bridge collapsing on the subway train or platform and may be taking a building over it down with it
I am completely open to the objection that this is nothing we need to be worrying about right now but surely at some point buses, if not trains, and their support systems are dur for several significant technological upgrades — electrification to begin with, autonomy at some point, some sort of integration with traffic flow and density., some sort of fare collection upgrade. (Right now people just climb onboard through one of the rear entrances. It looks like maybe half the riders actually pay. Maybe less) I wonder if anybody is thinking ahead to those. Like I said, I would understand if those responsible felt their plate was full.
Oh my, Senator. Thers’s just not a hint of any actions to improve anything here –nothing but resignation to a difficult problem. Myself, I think that the governor needs much more than support. She needs forceful encouragement to recognize the situation for the economic and social disaster that it is and to create an emergency plan to start corrective actions. I’m sure there are indeed many good people at the T, but the current structure and leadership have failed miserably, and that requires a substantive new program to fix.
“She needs forceful encouragement . . .”: I think she has enough encouragement already. This issue is on the front page every day.
As with the shortage of airline pilots, the shortage of transportation professionals stems partly from the vaccine mandates. I know of at least one person who worked at the T who was fired for not submitting to this forced medical experiment. There is also a substantial increase in disability claims stemming from these gene therapy injections, which are now finally being recognized as the damage is too obvious and can no longer be hidden.
Beyond the above mentioned, the management of the T is legendary for cronyism, corruption and mismanagement. I would support disbandment and a complete reorganization with oversight from an independent board comprised of the riding community.
Mark, please cite your sources or evidence for the above. Thank you.
Some statistical analysis can be found here: https://phinancetechnologies.com/HumanityProjects/Projects.htm#Nav_Disabilities
Sorry Mark, this doesn’t seem to be reliable research. Anything more mainstream to corroborate?
Sorry…I don’t follow CNN, NPR, Good Morning America, etc. I consider these tools of the managing elite and not worth reviewing. You can do some research into the subject and will find others discussing excess mortality and disability. Insurance company executives included.
None of the people involved in that seem to have any experience or expertise in medicine, epidemiology, virology, immunology, genetics or any other related field.
Correlation does not equal causation and they seem to make no attempt to correct for or even understand confounding factors.
It appears they regard VAERS data as the ultimate vindication of their hypothesis (though they haven’t analyzed it yet.) VAERS is totally unsuited for any such use. At best, it is a place to generate hypotheses, but since it is completely unvetted and prone to bias, it can’t prove anything. Instead, independent studies and trials must be performed (not reliant in any way on VAERS data) to validate any such hypothesis.
Finally, the “correlations” they are claiming smell strongly of P-hacking. “P-hacking” is sifting an enormous quantity of data, looking for any correlation with a statistical significance of more than 95%. That means 1 in 20 such correlations is due to chance alone, and would disappear in another study of an equally large database. If the null hypothesis is true (there is no connection or causal relation between the things studied) and you look for correlations in hundreds of such relationships, you would expect to find about 1 in 20 of them show a false positive statistical significance. P-hacking (looking for such correlations post-hoc to the study) is based on a logical fallacy, in is very unlikely to be correct.
Thanks for this Will.
What is the process needed to reignite the process for building the new Orange and Red Line cars approved in December 2016, almost seven years ago ?
Who in state government in addition the Governor Healey is current responsible for getting this ship sailing again?
I respect that human challenges exist as well but we must hold subcontractors to task in tandem with addressing the human challenges.
We’ve got a new general manager starting very soon!
MBTA management, is just a Figleaf over the Massachusetts body politic. Any manager, or safety board, or other initiative a goat for Massachusetts politicians and business leaders to hang their sins upon for their inability and unwillingness to make the MBTA a world class transportation system that treats its workers to a rusted out, leaky and crumbling transportation system. Massachusetts workers deserve better for the laborers for their facilitating the profits of wealthy folks, and we get the decrepit T as a reward?!
I look forward to Auditor DiZoglio’s bringing of sunlight to the Legislature.
I wonder how Charlie Baker got his reputation as a super manager? In addition to the T, whose problems he was alerted to in the first months of his first term, there are the disasters of DFC, with social workers driving around in the middle of the night with a toddler looking for a foster home because there was no central list, and the two Veterans Homes. There’s a lot on Maura Healey’s plate!
Who all was involved with abetting China’s anti-competitive, low, low bidd umping of their rolling stock on us?
It goes beyond infrastructure and investment. Even if there are many good people at the T, and I don’t doubt that, there is something profoundly wrong with the management and work culture.
Let’s take a long trip that I took from Lowell to Watertown last year. No fare collection on the Commuter Rail. Bathroom door won’t close on the train. Rest rooms locked at North Station at 8pm on a Sunday evening. On the Green Line, a worker must have snapped off a bolt on the overhead handhold and left a sharp burr. I cut my hand.
I reported the hazard at the Inspector’s Booth at Park Street and asked for a Band Aid. There was no first aid kit at the Inspector’s Booth. The poor employee in the booth looked and looked. Nothing. No first aid kit! Unspeakable! That would get me cited in my workplace.
There is considerable management rot at the T. Not necessarily the fault of most of the individual employees, but there is much reform needed.
Be sure to communicate with the MBTA via their website contact form where is should be given a request number and is on record.
Excellent analysis and assessment Will. Nothing is needed more at the T today than a highly experienced competent executive whose focus is on safety and service delivery. Some of the major policy initiatives of the past 15 years have had disastrous outcomes. Time for a back to basics approach. I hope to help you with this issue.
Hi Will. Recently a T subway driver shared with me issues about security. Unruly passengers and delayed police responses. Yet, personnel are suspended while instances get reviewed. As I heard a multitude of stories, there was a level of trauma and seemingly no relationship between this long term employee and Human Resources. To your point, with so much turnover a multitude of problems can arise that have nothing to do with equipment. Perhaps a need to go back to the basics.
I’d like to see the Governor and the legislature focus as much time on mass transit as it does on automobile travel. Right now it’s heavily waited towards autos. Bike travel will help but improving bike infrastructure doesn’t help mass transit too much.
Believe me, we spend much more time on mass transit. It’s much harder!
Not one, but two ongoing billion-dollar fiascos and a very large deferred maintenance debt. Where was legislative oversight? Passing out MBTA bonuses, salary increases, and pension bumps. If you reward abysmal performance does it really surprise you that you get more abysmal performance?
Since Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of Most news outlets are shells of their former selves. I’m an older Democrat and can’t tolerate CNN, MSNBC, or FOX if the later two were ever anything other than opinion infomercial programming. Local “broadcast” news is virtually useless and utterly subservient to industry. They only cover that which is evident. Who but Spotlight, or NECN has gone out and gotten a story? Being woke is a good start, but even that is just a distraction from the issues of media consolidation and the coming troubles AI, data collection, foreign adversaries exploiting the commercial landscape that profits on us being divided against ourselves.
Also, even though it’s only a Belmont issue, why no democratic forum on the school board, or upcoming votes on the rink and unelected treasurer?
I thank the Senator for his professionalism, informative emails and providing a forum.
Point being, the local news isn’t going to ruffle any feathers.
Thank you for the concise and clear write-up. I think a lot of us feel similar to you that we want to love and use the T.
In addition to the sources of frustration that you listed, I believe that there are two more that I think are key to understanding the overall public sentiment.
1.) Public transit, in particular metro trains is not a puzzle that is unique to Boston, so there is some confusion as to why Boston has gotten it so much worse than so many other cities of similar scale around the world. From the perspective of your average T rider, it’s hard to tell why Seoul, Santiago, Taipei, Moscow, Berlin, and hundreds of other cities have intermodal public transport networks that are imperfect but robust, usable, and reliable; all while the T is quite literally falling apart at the seams, cannot physically hold all the riders trying to use it, and struggles to keep trains running within 20 minutes of schedule on a daily basis.
Is it because those other cities put more money into public transit? Are their management structures different? Is there corruption harming the T’s development? Are Boston rider patterns too different?
What are we doing wrong that so many other cities are doing right? All the problems the T had would be far less painful if we couldn’t point randomly at a map and likely find an example of things going better. We can learn from what others have done.
2.) It’s completely understandable that there are stoppages, cancellations, and closures during normal maintenance, upgrades, and operations of a project this size and scale. However, Boston as a city is extremely poorly equipped to handle these moments and give commuters alternative methods of travel.
In the last year we’ve often had multiple T lines have shut downs or closures at the same time, so commuters cannot re-route to a different train. Busses on major routes like the 1 or 66 have enormous demand, similar to that of a minor train line, but still only run at best a single bus every 15 minutes, with absolutely no spare capacity. Bike lanes as an alternate transit option are great, but in many part of the city (in my experience Mass Ave and Huntington Ave for example) they are mostly parking lanes for delivery drivers, making them extremely hazardous to use during delivery hours (And outside delivery hours they are scattered with debris from street cleaning). When the red line closes downtown, the shuttle bus replacement does not pass by major stops like Park and Downtown Crossing. This is an insurmountable issue for riders with mobility and other accessibility needs.
A good public transit network does not need to run perfectly all the time. But it does need to have the flexibility and capacity to absorb the shocks when things are not running perfectly. The current network is so brittle that every problem immediately becomes a major disruption for every impacted rider.
Again, thanks for your time and consideration on this topic. These two points are just important to also add onto everything you said.
“Boston has gotten it so much worse than so many other cities of similar scale around the world”
Ours is an older system than most as the Senator alludes to above. But if I were to lay blame generally, I’d put it on the country and the populace at least as much as the region’s government. The safety problems have to end, but at least we have public transit as a realistic option within a pretty good area near the core of the metro. That’s not true at all of many U.S. cities or even in many other Massachusetts towns and cities. I’d settled on Greenfield as a place I might want to live, it being cheaper and more low key, somehow even reminding me of Nova Scotia, where I hale from. Guess what, their RTA doesn’t even run on weekends and IIRC not too deep into the evening either.
Was reading a Franklin county RTA report in part about who rides it and why. Essentially it seemed that the RTA’s ridership is generally those unable to drive from lack of money or from disabilities. That’s less true of the T but somewhat true too, just add in students as a third politically impotent class.
This is why I think we have to temper our expectations in the U.S. when it comes to public transit. The middle to upper economic classes’ primary mode is the automobile. So there’s heck to pay when that mode doesn’t work well, gas tax increases get shot down in so-called progressive states, etc. The T can be a metaphorical slow moving train wreck but that’s fine, news stories notwithstanding. And though you’d think expanded public transit would be part of the way we reduce our CO2 emissions, no, apparently that is not the case here. The transportation part of the climate problem will almost 100% be tackled by subsidizing relatively wealthy people to incent them into electric cars (which probably won’t work out very well but we’ll see), getting more people back onto the T or expanding it later being an impossibility.
There’s nothing much you can do about unless you have dual citizenship or some other way to move to Montreal. Anyone want to marry a crotchety ex-Canadian 😉 ? Do you mind cold weather?
Thanks for these points. I especially appreciate the point being able to absorb shocks more gracefully.
Didn’t the T get saddled with the Big Dig’s debt?
Wasn’t the T forced to fund pensions 10 yrs in advance?
Seems the T is the dumping ground for other, more glamorous, projects’ problems.
The decision to give China the contract for new cars stands out as not really looking down the track for oncoming problems, of all kinds.
Though the brief “Front Door Only” idiocy may be a recent lowlite in the T’s treatment of US.
There are 24 hrs in a day. Not so for the T…
If the tracks are too nasty and unsafe to go at a reasonable speed for commuters, then it’s too nasty and unsafe for T drivers.
But, I digress.
BTW, the new car’s seats: smaller, and very hard. very thoughtful of the T. Mustabin cheaper.
I do like that the new seats are impermeable unlike the nasty, disgusting “maintenance-free,” polyfabric seats that you can never tell if they are wet, or soiled even though the new seats are not bucketed and you slide around with + & – acceleration. I have seen the elderly fall attempting to sit on the pop up chairs that you have to hold down until you are seated. I think the new cars are paying dividends to the CCP in demoralizing Americans. Great value. Not!
Precious financial resources are spent on expanding the T. We need to suspend the expansion and concentrate using our limited financial resources to fix the current system. The expansion of the Green Line, if we didn’t spend the money and instead used it to fix the system, maybe we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in right now. Also, we don’t have enough competent employees to manage the system. A prime example is documenting the conditions of the tracks. There will a continuation of bad news coming from the T. I don’t expect any change in the forseenable future.
As a South End homeowner for 35 years, I walked everywhere or just hopped on the T to go a few stops. I rode the commuter rail to visit family and friends on the North Shore. Now that I’ve been a Watertown renter for more than 10 years, I rely on buses and the T to get around. What is increasingly frustrating is receiving smart phone alerts of delays of 25 minutes or more most times of the day. Need to get to a medical appointment in Boston? Start out two hours early, and maybe you’ll get there on time. Mass Pike Express service is rarely express because of traffic, and because there is no dedicated lane for the express bus. Housing developments and bio-labs get approved with multi-level parking garages, which will only induce more car usage on local streets already at level of service C and D. The recently-enacted MBTA Zoning Law requiring the building of housing in cities and towns served by the T will put more pressure on an already underperforming MBTA system. Some municipalities are vowing to disregard the MBTA Zoning Law. As a former Boston resident and neighborhood activist, I found it enraging that the capital city and other municipalities must go hand in hand, to the Legislature for permission to act on substantive matters and routine proposals such as changing speed limits on some local roads. The city-state power imbalance is a relic of old ethnic warfare, and it inhibits local decision making not only in Boston but other cities and towns. Boston, the economic engine of the state, has, according to a 2007 report form The Boston Foundation, less power over its own affairs than peer cities such as New York, Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, and Seattle. That means its inability to raise new sources of revenue leaves the city heavily dependent on the property tax in a city whose vast portion of property ( educational and medical institutions) is tax-exempt. That prioritizes commercial development over needed affordable housing, displacing middle-class and lower-income people and forcing them to move farther and farther from their employment, increasing car usage, and promoting suburban sprawl. Forcing municipalities to rely on home rule petition approvals to conduct their own local government affairs thwarts local control and serves vested interests on the Hill. Boston and other municipalities need more flexibility to act on local matters. To change a system that lets a representative from Ayer vote up or down on a request by Boston for a liquor license would require a constitutional amendment to change or repeal the current home-rule power structure. The powerful incumbents on the Hill aren’t likely to favor a change that would weaken their power. As things stand Massachusetts cities are like little kids who have to raise their hand for teacher’s permission to go to the rest room.
Hmmm. I think of the structural problem differently: We have too many small municipal units in Massachusetts. The whole state is smaller population wise than some large cities. It’s the fragmentation that makes regional planning challenging.
In addition to many of the comment regarding cleaniness and maintenance (both lacking) the T has no vision for the future or expansion that makes sense. We have four subway lines which use at least 3 different power and track standards (I think the red line and orange line are the same but I could be wrong). we can not switch cars from one line to another which is a huge mistake. and there are not inter-connections to run from the red line to the orange to the blue to the green. Expansion of the red line out to 128 with a parking garage would help to eliminate congestion on rt 2 retaking part of the minuteman bikeway which sadly does not even contribute 1 penny by it’s users to it’s upkeep. there is a need to have a combined station at Riverside where riders could catch the commuter rail for faster transport into Boston. The same could be said about the last stop for the Green line – there needs to be a conncetion to the commuter rail in west Medford
As for the Commuter rail this is a sad state – we run very long and heavy train sets during off peak hours when something like the budd liner from the 50’s might make more sense giving the ability to run more frequent trains during weekends and off peak hours.
All said – there also needs to be better planning for maintenance – shutting down one line for a week each summer for major maintenace makes sense
Yes, I’m a big fan of the idea of circumferential stations — there are several locations near 128 which would make sense, including one on the Worcester Line and one on the Fitchburg Line.
Glad to hear you use the T, Senator. But by and large, you know, it’s a class thing. And I simply don’t believe the T’s various ambitious stewards have — in a _very_ long time — conceived of it as anything more than a tricksy accommodation of the city’s remaining working people, and, of course, as site for boondoggling. It’s the greatest car ad ever conceived.
How much more in discussion is going to do anything, fix the situation?
Regularly seeing waits of 12-14 minutes for a non-branch-specific train is absurd. And God help you if you need to access the Braintree or Ashmont branches!
And then finally reaching Harvard going home and trying to get a 71 bus and it turns out, after ghost bus after ghost bus, you have to wait 30-40 minutes…while seeing many 73’s going by.
And don’t get me started on those new train cars with their cold, hard, slippery slabs of metal called seats…which you often have to manually lower first, and incessant beeping when you are stopped at a station. And what’s worse is that the T would probably respond, “well, if you don’t like them you can just stand”…as I hold onto something with one hand while holding onto my cane with the other.
How many decades will we have to wait for this to get fixed? I have no doubt it will all get worse before it gets better.
I disagree with the idea the T cannot do projects. Projects such as electrification will reduce operating and maintenance costs for CR over time and 100% need to start happening. I also agree we need more funding which I support. That said there are serious organizational issues at the T, MassDOT, and DPU as the recent safety failures and lack of documentation on inspections showed. Quite frankly there needs to be major changes to these organizations. This takes efforts such as legislature taking a more active role such as oversight hearings etc into these organizations. Also we need more people on the board that will push the T. I strongly believe the state should ask Transit Matters to sit on the board and push the T to be functional as they have a lot of expertise and will push the T to be a transit system Boston needs it to be to function.
It’s about the priorities. This basically provincial finance town with its islands of higher learning and wealth will never have the vision and priorities to be a home for the Democrats of old. The Democratic Party has long been usurped and made to wear an iron mask by the pretenders who call themselves Democrats. Tucked away in a safe, harmless box called “Progressives,” are the heirs to the Democratic Party. The in-situ Democratic Party is a refuge for traditional Republicans who give not too much more than lip service to social justice. Many Democrats are well meaning and believe they are care takers maintaining the pathological, unfair, unequal and divided status quo when in fact and deed they are profiting from the status quo unwilling to risk their life and treasure on meaningful change.
In my opinion, one change that is needed is the state should look at providing a stable adequate funding source for the T. I think a state assessed property tax based on how close and to what type of T service a property has access to could be a better method of funding the T. If local cities and towns did not get an assessment from the T to fund the system generally, but the state taxed parcels through their distance to T services the funding for the T would be tied to where the service is provided. And that funding varied by the type of service with in 1/2 mile or less, and one mile of a property location it would a less arbitrary system of funding than we have now which is town by town and a general assessment on the property tax of the entire town/city. Additionally, property owners especially large downtown property owners would have a great incentive to raise a stink when the T is not doing a good job. The stink only is happening now because there seems to be a total failure at many levels at the T now. The current system seems to allow for and encourages a great deal of “its not my fault or problem” behavior by various levels of management because there seems to be very little actual accountability, or ability to supervise and enforce contracts, and until recently very little public attention paid to the wretched financial and contract supervision by the T in particular and Mass DOT in general. The T used to have a very capable maintenance department. The Riverside Line was built by the T maintenance department after WWII without having to contract out much of the work. The maintenance department built some of the trolley cars, from purchased parts. Currently I do not think that the T’s maintenance department has the institutional knowledge or ability to do most of the needed repairs, let alone build a trolley or subway car. It has to hire expensive construction firms to do the heavy maintenance and likely most of the routine maintenance too. What is happening now with the T is a band aid to get the T functional, but it is not a plan to modernize, a plan fix the systemic problems and fix the lack of institutional capabilities or change how the T serves the region so that something is done to mitigate the horrible traffic around the eastern MA region. I hope that the Legislature looks at ways the crisis as an opportunity to actually fix more than the immediate crisis. Because not changing how the system works is actually an example of what Albert Einstein defined as insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We have had these kinds of problems before with the T.
The state does support more than half of the T’s budget with a guaranteed share of sales tax revenue and other committed assistance. We may need to add more support to cover sustained ridership loss.
Thank-you for addressing this issue, Senator. I believe what we’re seeing now and have been witnessing since the 2015 “snowmageddon melt-down” are the culmination of years of mismanagement and under-investment. It’s good that the state is finally investing in needed maintenance and system updates. But there are additional challenges our (almost) 126 year old system faces. Does the MBTA have Risk and Compliance officers, for example whose jobs it would be to ensure we meet the strictest standards of safety, maintenance, training and financial controls?
Id like to direct your attention to a very good YouTube channel, RM Transit, run by a gentleman named Reece Martin, in which he discusses transit systems around the world. There are four videos in particular I’d like to reference.
The first video (short link https://youtu.be/Vk1vlKVdE9M) is called “Why Subways in the US are Set Up to Fail”. The first few minutes of that video specifically discuss Boston and the MBTA. One of the things that Reece discusses is how “brittle” our systems are. Take the shutdown of the Green and Orange lines, for example, because of the Government Center garage collapse and continuing demolition work. In New York, Chicago or Paris, a shutdown of one subway line wouldn’t have as much effect because there are often additional lines that run close to the line under construction. We don’t have that luxury because, for example, projects like the North-South rail link have gone nowhere. If there’s a train that knocks out a signal box at JFK/UMass, there is the potential to shut down 2 branches of the Red line.; a fallen wire at Park Street shuts down all 4 western branches of the Green line, and so on.
In a related video, “Missing Links: Short-Sighted Transit Planning”, Martin discusses the fact that there are often few or inconvenient connection points between lines. We see this on the MBTA in places like the Silver Line, which should have, at least, been constructed as light rail and should have connected to the Green Line at Boylston. There is the missing Blue-Red Connector at Charles and, at the other end, no connection to commuter rail in Lynn. The Orange line doesn’t go the extra mile to Roslindale square. The cancelled Urban Ring would have created another line around the city providing many more connections among subway and commuter rail lines and obviating the need to go all the way downtown just to go back out on another line.
The third video is about Vancouver’s SkyTrain (https://youtu.be/FSqJsEPH7xU). This system is automated and runs short trains but at shorter intervals, similar to Copenhagen. Shortage of drivers? Not to worry, none needed on SkyTrain! Miss your train? No problem, another will be on its way in a few minutes!
In the fourth Martin video, he discusses how developers and officials will say that communities are served by transit, but these claims are often misleading (see The Biggest Lie in Transit History? – It’s “Served” at https://youtu.be/SP2Ey8eU5yA). Service ending at 7:00 pm or not running on Sundays or running every 2 hours is not “service” at all.
There are many other videos by other YouTubers that demonstrate how people commute AROUND cities, suburb to suburb, not IN and OUT of city centers as was the case decades ago. The Urban Ring, again, would have helped in this regard, but, as with so many other MBTA projects, the MBTA and state and local governments appear unable or unwilling to “think big.”
I have ridden many subway systems in the U.S., Canada and Europe. In Paris, to commute to La Defense, the business district in the western part of the city, one can take Line 1 on the Metro, or the RER (the regional rail system) to the same station. Or, in the worst case, one can take one of the many other lines, connecting with a light rail or bus line that go to the same destination. In New York City, if the 6th Avenue line isn’t running, one can use the 7th, Avenue, 8th Avenue, or Broadway lines. London and Berlin and many other Asian cities also have dense networks with closely-spaced lines with a multitude of connections. Just consider the transit maps of these cities:
Toronto in 2030: https://dailyhive.com/toronto/toronto-transit-map-2030;
Seoul, South Korea: http://www.seoulmetro.co.kr/en/cyberStation.do);
Mexico City: https://mexicometro.org/wp-content/uploads/Mexico-City-Metro-Map-October-2015.pdf)
At this time, cities around the world are racing to add miles of rail infrastructure to their systems. To our north, Toronto and Montreal are two close-by examples. But there are no concrete plans to expand the MBTA where it’s needed – right in the densely-populated metro area where developers are being told to build transit-oriented residences. There is no rail at all to Everett, Watertown and large parts of South Boston and Dorchester. These communities rely solely on buses.
You might make the argument that Boston isn’t as large as other cities. While that may be true, to use one of Martin’s phrases, Boston “punches way above its weight”. By most measures, we’re in the top 30 cities (or metropolitan areas) worldwide in GDP (see http://www.citymayors.com/statistics/richest-cities-2020.html, Wikipedia, and OECD statistics). According to Money, we’re the 15th richest city on the planet (https://moneyinc.com/richest-cities-in-the-world/). It’s inconceivable that a city as important and supposedly proud of its “global” rankings has such an antiquated, 19th century transit system.
Thank you for such a thoughtful set of comments with great resources.
One of the biggest assets Boston has is its rail network. As we come out of the current difficulties, I hope we can return to the conversation about regional rail.
Glad to see Will still rides. I am pushing 60 and have not seen my cohort return post-Covid. I think they are remote, driving but not coming back. I see the young and the poor.
I gave up on the “T” a long time ago (mid 80’s). Nothing like the pain of riding a crowded B line from Boston College downtown and back to motivate me to get on a bike!! Easier to ride – even in the winter. I still ride my bike now, but mostly for exercise. When I need to get most places, and I can’t walk, I drive my car.
I totally agree the T is truly stagnant – yes the green line was extended but this is truly an example of the issues we face every day – multiple delays in constructions. I would love to see the green line extend into Watertown – and since it used to there is no reason not to do it again by running it along the river and commuter rail line – The Arsenal section of Watertown has exploded with residentiual development and no supporting transportatioin infrastructure development – again maybe this is a situation where we take a bikeway back for mass transit and run a line over to Alwife station or even into Harvard square station as a subway that makes a loop from Kenmore square along the pike toward into Brighton and Allston into Watertown then into Cambridge
While reading all of these worthwhile comments, I could not help thinking about the horse drawn trolley wagons of yesteryear. Have we reached the point where our society has reached the point of no return and is collapsing due to the inability of our engineer and scientific community to bail us out (rhetorical question). The Charles River is nearby, and perhaps consideration should be given to exploit that resource; not much infrastructure to be concerned with. Air transport would be a mess. In the event of a complete replacement/repair of the rail system, perhaps we could commandeer utilizing the school buses as a temporary replacement, and the kids could revert back to the earlier era when children walked to school uphill, both ways. Meanwhile, after exploring and discovering alternative methods for mass transportation requirements, a possible twenty year effort to entirely re design and produce a completely new public mass transportation system with fail proof payment methods by riders (with prepaid plastic cards) could be undertaken in order to save the system from complete collapse. The present system will not be “saved” by the continued piece-meal effort. And what is the causality of cities facing seemingly unfixable problems? Perhaps a single political party in control for more than 70 or more years could be the answer. My goodness, I can feel the stones being hurled my way.
Will, the last Governor to properly take care of transit was Mike Dukakis, a Democrat. Since then, it has been subject to neglect from Governors of both parties, though largely Republicans. The Legislative Branch too, mostly Democrats has a lot to answer for as well. Plenty of blame to go around. I’m not sure why the T is such a unloved child by the political class.
At one time time we had a decent system. But the region has grown, needs have grown, and environmental imperatives have emerged. But the system has not grown. I am not sure, for instance, why the Red Line doesn’t run under the Minuteman Bikeway to Route 128. Actually, I know why, but that is an ugly story.
To boot, we have neglected what our forbearers bequeathed to us until it has been reduced to a shambles.
Will, the point that I take from your comment is that the T we need in the future will take much time to plan and build. Surely there are projects that can happen quickly given the time, the money and the will.
But we very well may need a transitional system, perhaps very dependent on Bus Rapid Transit, until the system we so badly need is built.
But all the more reason to start tomorrow.
Job one: Do the track work needed to eliminate the slow zones. Great to hear the new GM focused on that.
I gave up on the MBTA. I have been fiding MBTA to and from work since 2012. It is so much worse since 2022 with cut in service, delays and accidents. I started driving to work because I can no longer afford wasting my life in this unreliable system. I came back from a two week trip to Taiwan and China. Public transportation is night and days better there. Do not blame the equipemrnt, it is the mindset that dragged us all down in the case of MBTA
Good news! We’ve just bought some “optimism,” for a cool $500k/yr.
Optimism in this scenario translates to political cover.
“…don’t expect any overnight changes. A lot of the work that needs to be done are so deeply rooted that many of the necessary changes are ones we won’t see.” -Brandon Truitt WBZ
You can certainly interpret that two ways. Well, I hope these changes come to pass.
“… many of the necessary changes are ones we won’t see.” CALLING TREASURER DiZoglio !!!
Thank you for writing this up and for advocating for the T. I want to note that I don’t consider expansion demands a distraction, but in fact part of the same set of issues identified here. Mass transit needs to be safe enough to ride, it needs to have enough drivers to run and it needs to reach enough places that people can use it. All of these components come back to reliability. And none of these are too much to ask. As a Bostonian who relies on the T to get pretty much anywhere, I know very well how many people are in the same boat (my green line car this morning must have had 50 people shoved in there). Taking mass transit cuts down on emissions and traffic, so it is valuable for us all to invest in the T’s reliability, *including* in expanding the T.
Thanks, Maggie. I’m in favor of expansion generally. But I also feel that any organization can only do so much at once. As one voice, I always want to very respectful of the need to allow a team to focus.
I so appreciate your observations and willingness to weigh in on this. It is truly a comfort to my family and me knowing that you are involved.
The ROOT of the MBTA’s ills are not MBTA management the root is on BEACON HILL where priorities are set and business finds its voice.
The history of corruption in Massachusetts and legacy of the corrupt largesse in the MBTA – doled out and managed in and by individuals in the STATE HOUSE -if I’m not mistaken- must be part of the narrative as well as the public auditing of priorities of the Commonwealth. The shine won’t last forever on centrist “Democrats.”
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The ROOT of the MBTA’s ills are not MBTA management the root is on BEACON HILL where priorities are set and business finds its voice. The history of corruption in Massachusetts and legacy of the corrupt largesse in the MBIA – doled out and managed in and by individuals in the STATE HOUSE -if I’m not mistaken- must be part of the narrative as well as the public auditing of priorities of the Common-wealth. The shine won’t last forever on centrist Democrats.
Senator Brownsberger is one of the good ones to be sure
Thank you for putting your view out in public, and asking for feedback. That is courageous, and I appreciate your courage.
That said, I feel that the analysis does not go deep enough, in asking,” why is there not a state of good repair?” Proper maintenance requires a multi year , and appropriately funded approach. Historically, the legislature established the MBTA in 1962 with a defined budget process, and capital debt service paid 90% by the state, in order to incentivize the MBTA to grow to serve a growing economy, whose growth was being threatened by growing congestion. It was designed to “ walk and chew gum” at the same time.- to operate and maintain the existing service, and expand the service to serve a growing economy. What has undermined the MBTA was the reversal of those policies by the governor and legislature around the year 2000, when debt service , 90% of which was supposed to be borne by the state , was suddenly dumped on the MBTA, leaving no room in the budget for preventative maintenance. That false austerity that cut maintenance, and then used debt to provide deferred maintenance, has been a double disaster. First, debt based deferred maintenance is not an adequate substitute for timely preventative maintenance,, causing the erosion of the state of good repair. Secondly, using debt to carry out deferred maintenance, has wasted the capital capacity of MBTA which should have been going into effective expansion projects.
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