Mass. urgently needs a Plan B for TCI

We have wasted the last 30 years doing far too little

THE CANCELLATION of the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), a centerpiece of the Commonwealth’s efforts to combat climate change, is deeply disappointing, because transportation causes over 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. Political leaders in most of the participating states, including Gov. Charlie Baker, have demonstrated a lack of political courage to confront the existential issue of our time. I am disappointed, but younger generations are positively frightened and justifiably angry. They will have to live in the world we are leaving them, and it is not a pretty one. Just look at the horrific floods in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia over the past few weeks, sadly one of many examples from the past year of the human and economic toll of climate change.

We are now late in the climate game.  Modest and partial solutions are no longer sufficient because we have wasted the past 30 years doing too little.  The governor argued that TCI was “no longer the best solution” because we are already increasing our investments in mass transit through existing state and federal revenue.  We recognize the massive infusion of federal recovery dollars in transit, and we are grateful for it.  However, these funds represent a short-term, one-time infusion of cash. Most of these dollars will either make up for revenue lost during the pandemic or allow the MBTA to conduct long-delayed maintenance and system upgrades.  Only a small portion will expand services and move riders from cars to transit, which is what we must do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

If we are serious about climate change, we need to increase transit capacity, not just maintain what we have. That means developing a 21st century MBTA that offers people affordable and comfortable rides to more of the places they want to go, with greater frequency and reliability.  It also means investing in regional transit authorities beyond Greater Boston so they can improve service and attract more riders.  And it means electrifying the rail and bus systems to reduce their carbon footprint.

That’s why the Baker administration and the Legislature must come up with a Plan B that not only raises significant revenue to address all our transportation needs, but also increases the cost of carbon – gasoline, diesel, heating oil, and natural gas – to reflect accurately the long-term costs of heating up the planet.  This step, a central tenet of TCI, may be politically unpopular, but it is also absolutely necessary and fair.  We need our elected officials to act as political and moral leaders and the plain truth is that we can only solve the climate crisis if we create financial incentives to move away from carbon-emitting fuels.

In a market economy, that signal is sent through price.  State and national leaders should not only recognize this reality, but also avoid burdening low and moderate-income residents with costs they cannot and should not bear. Smart policy can ensure those residents receive a fair share of the proceeds through rebates and other benefits, while we use the remaining capital to make climate-smart investments to improve the transportation system for all its users.

Meet the Author

Marc Draisen

Executive director, Metropolitan Area Planning Council
The largesse of the federal government will last only a moment.  Climate change, by contrast, will affect us forever, unless we take the long-term actions necessary to confront it. The time to take those action is now; really, it was yesterday.

Marc D. Draisen is the executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the regional planning agency for Greater Boston.