Weekday sports victory parades have to stop

If the Patriots want to celebrate, let the team foot the bill

LET THE DAY be encapsulated by this message posted from the MBTA Commuter Rail’s twitter account at 8:10 p.m. on Tuesday, February 5:

Update: Worcester Train 522 (5:20 pm inbound) is stopped at Boston Landing due to an unruly passenger and is currently 90-100 minutes behind schedule.

You read that right – 90-100 minutes behind schedule. It would get worse before the night was over. This wasn’t because of any operations or maintenance failure by the MBTA or its commuter rail operator. It was Patriots Parade Day, a day of transportation disruption, delay, and discontent.

Patriots Parade Day doesn’t seem to bring out the best in many people. A commuter rail conductor reported that trains were left covered in litter and refuse. According to one news report, liquor-laden fans relieved themselves into bottles left for the commuter rail cleanup crew to deal with; others skipped the niceties of urinating in a bottle, creating foul puddles on the train floor.

Far be it for me to rain on someone’s parade, but these weekday mega-parade events held to celebrate sports team victories have to stop. The chaos, the intolerable inconvenience to everyday transit riders, the extraordinary and unfair burden placed on city and state resources, the unfair demands made of the MBTA and its commuter rail operator, and the (as yet) unknown costs of public safety and mobility measures all combine to make these events toxic, expensive, and borderline dangerous.

I doubt I need to say this, because I assume you know it already, but I’m a person who, at best, is ambivalent about sports. Feel free to discount what I’m saying as the opinion of someone who doesn’t have an interest in the game or its players. But even if I was Boston’s No. 1 sports fan boy, I’d be saying the same thing: these weekday events are bad for the city, bad for our quality of life, and bad for the public transportation system we rely upon for basic mobility services.

By inviting 1.5 million people into the downtown core on a weekday, we are putting unreasonable demands on our transit and rail systems and the people who work to keep them running. I used the Red Line several times on Patriots Parade Day, and it was one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had using public transportation. Crowding was beyond crush capacity levels, several people were openly drinking on one train I was on, others were smoking, and one person had clearly been thrown up upon.

Universal Hub reported unruly crowds at South Station pushing, shoving, and screaming; there was also one woman with a walker hyperventilating in fear of her life. That grand rail station was described as a “nightmare for people desperately trying to get out of town.” A WBZ-TV reporter described the conditions at North Station as “bedlam on Causeway Street.”

All this because a football team won a game, and its molly-coddled players couldn’t wait until Saturday to share their victory with their adoring fans. My focus is, as you might expect, on the burden placed on the transit and rail system. Having the parade on a weekday was not the T’s fault. The MBTA was a victim, as were many of us, of the football team owners and players who think nothing of disrupting lives, burdening the transit system, and footing all of us with the bill. It ought to be unacceptable. It is certainly unconscionable. Who will stand up for the average, everyday taxpayer and fare payer who just wants to get home on time after a hard day at work without having their train delayed by 100 minutes?

Could the MBTA have done better? Under the circumstances, the T and Keolis performed quite well, given the reality that they had to rely on the system that performs to mixed results during the average work week. On the commuter rail side of the house, the T might have considered getting Fiscal and Management Control Board approval for a special Parade Day fare policy, giving boarding priority to monthly pass holders and charging one-day parade-goers a higher fare without priority boarding status. And if the T would deploy electric locomotives, or EMUs, on the already electrified Providence Line, it would have additional equipment it could shift to boost capacity on other lines. I doubt there’s much the T could have done differently on the inner core subway system – as bad as my Red Line experience was, it wasn’t because of any MBTA failure.

Would there be similar burdens on the system if the parade were held on a Saturday? Perhaps, but the impacts would be profoundly different. Yes, many people also work weekends, but not nearly at the scale of a busy weekday. In circumstances like this you need to find the most optimal solution, and such a solution would recognize the reality that a weekday is simply not the right time to encourage 1.5 million people to enter the city and add to its already congested weekday conditions. If the mega-parade must take place, let’s use common sense and require that it be held on a weekend day.

Of course, many people wore broad smiles on Patriots Parade Day, including team owner Bob Kraft. He’s right to smile because he’s getting a pretty good deal from taxpayers and T fare payers; we get to pick up the tab for his victory parade.

If the Patriots want a parade, they should pay for the parade, every last penny of it. Kraft is getting a really good deal from the MBTA. If you add up the cost of overtime and unpaid fares incurred by the T on Patriots Parade Day, and then add that to the all-in cost of running Kraft’s commuter rail pilot to serve his Foxboro business and entertainment center, the number would probably pay for early engineering of the Blue/Red Line rail connector, with money left over.

All of this is to say: we’re doing this all wrong. We can’t be inviting 1.5 million people into Boston on a busy weekday – that’s just not fair to our citizens, workers, or transit system. We can’t be letting a team owner off the financial hook, especially as our transit system struggles to get necessary projects underway and seeks a fare increase to cover an operating shortfall created because it has to shift operating funds to the capital budget.

Meet the Author

There’s no way, given the size and inherent rowdiness of the crowds, to prevent the public drinking, the public vomiting, the fighting, and all of the predictably ugly stuff that goes hand in hand with events of this type and scale. If we must have these mega-parades, let’s have them on a Saturday or Sunday, when our hard working public safety and transit workers can more easily manage them, and when they will have the least impact on the most people.

James Aloisi is a former state secretary of transportation, principal of TriMount Consulting, and a member of the TransitMatters board.