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Funding the MBTA

Diagnosing the issues surrounding the MBTA is not a simple task.

Let’s not forget that the T’s issues did not magically appear when the snow came. Rather, the agency has a long history with numerous failures and missteps which have led us to this point. But now, thanks to a historic amount of snow on the ground, the T’s ability to serve the Commonwealth has been crippled with no real end in sight.

No one could’ve seen this snowfall coming. The transportation issues, though? That’s another story. And now, with the benefit of hindsight, we’re constantly hearing about how the situation could have been different had a vote gone another way in November.

In repealing the gas tax, Massachusetts voters stripped the MBTA of a funding source that would provide capital required to make essential maintenance and upgrades to the transit systems possible. While not a full-proof solution, it was a step in the right direction. As a strong proponent of public transit and a daily rider on the T, the tax was something I was in favor of keeping.

Concern for the MBTA’s well-being was not limited to those in favor of the gas tax, however. Former Boston Globe columnist Paul McMorrow said a repeal “should be a recipe for more broken trains, fewer buses, shoddier transit service, and ever-worsening traffic in and around Boston,” in a column entitled “Gas tax repeal is a blessing in disguise.” McMorrow argued that repealing the gas tax would give the Legislature and other leaders another shot at finding a more thorough fix for our infrastructure. Those supporting a repeal, including now-Governor Baker, opposed the measure because they viewed it as a regular tax increase—not because they didn’t want to maintain the MBTA.  

If that vote were to take place today (and we’ll pretend everyone was able to make it out to their polling stations), would things be different now that the problem of delayed maintenance is bludgeoning the state in the face? Given the frustration levels I’ve witnessed during morning and evening commutes, I’d say it’s quite possible.

But we can’t dwell on what could’ve been. What we need now is Massachusetts leadership to take action beyond asking residents to be patient and wait it out.

During the Gubernatorial race, Baker outlined his stance on transportation saying, “My biggest priority as governor will be bringing a cooperative (state, local and regional) approach to long-term strategic planning that addresses our present and future transportation needs, while protecting taxpayers.”

Less than two months into his administration, there might not be a bigger issue on the table for him. Baker – maybe unfairly – is taking heat for his handling of the MBTA situation (never mind his proposed slashing millions of transportation funding, which was recently passed by the Legislature). Like it or not, Baker needs to take meaningful action on fixing the T— and fast. 

For now, we’re all stuck on the platform, waiting for the solution to pull into the station. 

Photo By Amy Kvistad (Flickr: Hamilton Wenham MBTA train station) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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