Biz Groups with Statewide Outlook Cry for Solution to MBTA Quagmire

Friday, May 8, 2015

I am starting to think something might actually be done to fix the MBTA.  At the end of that process we might even have a public transportation system as good, say, as Chicago’s, where the trains don’t break down when it gets really cold and snow falls furiously from the sky.

I say that because Charlie Baker stuck his neck out a mile when he took “ownership” of the T:  the governor wants to get re-elected and could have a hard time doing that if obvious progress has not been made at the T by November, 2018.
I’m also encouraged that the state’s heavy hitters are trying to keep the spotlight on the MBTA at precisely the time when the longer days and warmer breezes of spring are otherwise softening our memories of what it was like to ride the T in February.   Even knee-jerk skeptics like myself, who suffer from acute post-mass-transpo traumatic stress syndrome, are already looking back on the winter of 2014-15 and saying things like, “You know, it really wasn’t that bad that night they put us off the trains and I was stranded in zero-degree weather for over two hours.  It wasn’t like I was being held hostage by terrorists or something.”

On April 29, a coalition of 25 business associations urged the governor and legislature to adopt the recommendations of the governor’s Special Panel to Review the MBTA.  It’s time to “swiftly begin the task of fixing the state’s public transit system,” coalition members said.
The Business Coalition, as it calls itself, includes the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the 495/MetroWest Partnership, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, the Massachusetts High Tech Council, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Lodging Association, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, and the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties.

The statewide orientation of most coalition members is pertinent in the extreme as it evidences an historic co-dependence.  A high-functioning transportation system in Greater Boston is intrinsic to the health of the entire Massachusetts economy, and vice versa.
Here’s how the Business Coalition summarized the effects of the MBTA’s massive winter-time failure:

“The unreliability of our public transit system caused many businesses to lose substantial revenues from the loss of productivity due to delays and/or the inability of workers to get to work.  Many hourly workers forfeited wages; and the Commonwealth forfeited the income, sales and meals tax associated therewith.  A sub-optimal public transit system also caused roadways to be more congested than usual and commuting times to grow to unreasonable lengths for those who opted to drive or were transporting goods.  The adverse financial impacts totaled in the billions of dollars.  This is unacceptable and must not be repeated.”
This must be repeated: “The adverse financial impacts totaled in the billions of dollars.”

Here’s another, new way of measuring the benefits of good public transportation and the costs of bad.

The New York Times reported yesterday on the latest results from a long-term study of upward mobility by a team of Harvard academics.  Commuting time “has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty,” the Times said.  “The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder.”
Paraphrasing Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and researcher, the Times said: “The impact of transportation on social mobility is stronger than several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community.”

So, bad public transportation not only suppresses economic activity and reduces the tax revenue that supports all governmental services, it also makes it harder for persons to rise out of poverty and for poor parents to set their children up for better lives.
The state of the MBTA is a much bigger story than we customarily believe it to be. 

You can read that New York Times piece, “Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty,” by going to:


1 comment:

Patrick said...

My feeling is that Baker thinks the MBTA's problems were mostly winter problems and mainly because of the really bad winter. The summer is going to be a rude awakening.

Post a Comment