Crunching the T’s numbers

News coverage of the MBTA’s budget-balancing initiatives focused almost entirely on halting weekend commuter rail service and curtailing rides for disabled riders, but the biggest savings would come from privatization.

T officials estimated they could save $27 million, or about 61 percent of the proposed package of spending reductions, by privatizing bus maintenance at garages or using the threat of privatization to force T unions at garages to lower their costs.

A week ago, a T consultant said the bus maintenance work could be turned over to private operators who could cut costs by 50 percent while retaining the existing T workers at their current pay levels. But on Monday Brian Shortsleeve, the chief administrator and acting general manager at the T, unveiled a private sector model for operating the Cabot Garage that suggested the savings would come primarily from job cuts. Shortsleeve said the private company would cut the number of jobs at Cabot from 72 to 50, with nearly all of those reductions coming from the ranks of machinists (a reduction from 45 to 23).

In making the case for halting weekend commuter rail for a year, T officials made the case that “the service has low ridership and high costs, resulting in high subsidies.” The T said the subsidy is $34 per trip on weekends and $5 per trip on weekdays.

But those numbers are misleading. As Tony Dutzik of the Frontier Group has pointed out, cutting weekend service won’t save $34 per rider. “In communicating to the public about the cost of these services, the Baker administration has tended to focus on the total cost — which includes a share of the systems’ fixed costs, spread across all riders — as opposed to the marginal cost of running an additional bus or train,” Dutzik said.

Put another way, the MBTA owns the commuter trains, the track, and the stations and will be paying for them whether it runs weekend service or not. The real savings from cutting weekend service come from using less fuel and labor.

Two years ago, the T estimated weekend commuter rail ridership at about 40,000, or about 2 million over the course of a year. The T also estimated it could save $18 million by eliminating the  service, but warned in a footnote that any savings would require reducing the scope of the Keolis contract. On Monday, T officials said they run 11,000 commuter rail trips on weekends and would save only $10 million by eliminating the service.

The numbers need a lot more scrubbing.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

The Baker administration’s new MBTA mantra: “Cut to invest.” (CommonWealth)

The Baker administration is cutting off its $2 million-a-year funding for the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. (CommonWealth)

State Democrats are moving their convention from Lowell to Worcester. (Telegram & Gazette)

Colin Kingsbury voices opposition to the millionaire’s tax, which is likely to be on the ballot next year. (Boston Magazine) For more opposition, read this earlier piece by Edward M. Murphy. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Critics says Boston’s decision to extend a six-month pilot study of police body-worn cameras for an additional six months seems like a politically-motivated delay in moving to full implementation of a camera program for all officers. (Boston Herald)  

Beverly Mayor Mike Cahill opposes making the community a sanctuary city, bucking his School Committee. (Salem News)

West Bridgewater selectmen are considering changing a town regulation that requires all managers and assistant managers of stores with liquor licenses to be naturalized citizens and at least one to be present at all times. (The Enterprise)

The Marlborough City Council approved a proposal by Mayor Arthur Vigeant for a six-month moratorium on housing projects in order to gauge the impact of development on public services such as police, fire, and schools. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the GOP health plan will cut the deficit by $337 billion over the next decade while also triggering the loss of insurance for 24 million people. (U.S. News & World Report) The budget office’s analysis shows older low-income adults would be hardest hit with the loss of subsidies and increase in premiums while middle- and high-income earners would see significant tax breaks. (New York Times) A Massachusetts advocacy group estimates 300,000 Bay State residents would lose coverage under Medicaid cuts in the plan. (Boston Globe) Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Boston Medical Center CEO Kate Walsh coauthor an op-ed saying the GOP health bill would not only mean less coverage for Massachusetts residents, but would also damage the health care sector, a huge engine of the state’s economy. (Boston Globe)

John McDonough calls the GOP health care plan to cut coverage for 24 million people a “moral challenge for America.” (CommonWealth)

Administration officials have begun to walk back President Trump’s incendiary claim that former President Barack Obama tapped his phones during the campaign, with press secretary Sean Spicer using air quotes to describe the word “wiretapping.” (New York Times) Peter Gelzinis likens the clownish antics to the famous “Who’s on First” routine of comedy duo Abbott and Costello. (Boston Herald)

ELECTIONS

Former state representative Carlos Henriquez, who was booted out of the Legislature in 2014 following an assault and battery conviction, says he’ll run for the open Roxbury-based Boston City Council seat being vacated by Tito Jackson who is running for mayor. (Politico)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

After 32 years, Boston advertising icon Hill Holliday will no longer have the account representing John Hancock insurance. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Trustees at the University of Massachusetts Boston, which has suffered from a budget deficit, declining enrollment, and overdue construction projects, have cut back on the powers of

Keith Motley, the chancellor, including by hiring the former president of Bowdoin College to run the day-to-day operations of the campus. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Sen. Elizabeth Warren says in an op-ed that gutting the Affordable Care Act would make the fight against opioid addiction and providing treatment infinitely harder. (Patriot Ledger)

RELIGION

Two Catholic scholars discuss the potential for a shift on the church’s tradition of celibacy of priests in the wake of Pope Francis’s signal in an interview that he may be open to married men becoming priests. (Greater Boston)

TRANSPORTATION

Wanted: Super hero to run the T. (CommonWealth)

First CRRC employees ready to go to China to receive training on assembling new Red and Orange Line cars. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Despite public and government opposition, Casella Waste Systems is pressing for a nonbinding ballot question in Southbridge requiring town officials to negotiate an expansion of the company’s landfill. (Telegram & Gazette)

Cape Cod officials are experimenting with using camera-laden balloons as the latest effort to find an affordable and effective way to detect great white sharks when they return to the area in the summer. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Former House speaker Sal DiMasi, who is suffering from two forms of cancer and was granted compassionate early release from federal prison, is asking the federal judge overseeing his case to now loosen the home confinement conditions that he imposed, saying it would allow better access to medical appointments and physical therapy. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Nate Silver on the liberal media bubble. (FiveThirtyEight)

Why the Boston Globe embraced Facebook for notifications to readers. (Digiday)

A federal grand jury in New York is set to hear testimony in an investigation of Fox News over the company’s alleged cover-up of payments for sexual harassment and keeping shareholders in the dark. But the probe is complicated by President Trump’s abrupt dismissal of US Attorney Preet Bharara, who was spearheading the case. (New York Times)

PASSINGS

Children’s book author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who recently wrote a widely acclaimed essay titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband” as she was reaching the end of her battle with cancer, died Monday in Chicago. She was 51. (New York Times)

  • Mhmjjj2012

    Apparently, we can’t trust the MBTA to provide accurate information for an informed public discussion on what decisions should be made at the transit agency. This isn’t the first time MBTA got its facts wrong. Essentially the Governor’s oversight panel didn’t use real facts or come to honest conclusions on the MBTA’s operations. The MBTA still has no full-time general manager. The MBTA is getting so fragmented there’s a company counting money, a company handling parts inventory, a company running the commuter rail, a company handling calls from employees taking unscheduled absences and who knows how many other companies are inside the MBTA’s workings. Using marginal cost for weekend commuter rail service is the way to go. What are those costs?