Where is Baker’s sense of urgency on the T?

‘Headed in the right direction’ is not enough

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER is apparently contemplating a third term in order to complete the things he’s started. It’s clear that at this pace he may need a fourth term to fix the MBTA.

The two MBTA derailments in the past week dramatize the enormous challenges facing the T and the lack of meaningful progress for transit riders.

In response to the Red Line derailment, Baker offered these hardly reassuring words: “I believe we’re headed in the right direction on that stuff.”

The right direction, to be sure, but where is the administration’s sense of urgency?

We’re now in the fifth year of the Baker administration, and yes, there has been some progress. The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board has done an admirable job in stimulating a wide array of changes at the T. The MBTA now has an experienced and talented general manager in Steve Poftak. And the administration plans to make $8 billion in capital investments at the T over the next five years.

What is there to show for all this? Undoubtedly, critical improvements in infrastructure for the long term but precious little for harried T riders who must endure undependable and crowded commutes on a daily basis.

Those T riders who have the option of driving to work are caught between the mythical creatures Scylla and Charybdis. If the T commute has at least not gotten any poorer during the Baker administration, congestion for drivers has dramatically worsened to the breaking point.

Here again the administration has shown no sense of urgency. Worse they have actually blocked progress.

Last August Baker vetoed a modest but constructive provision in the fiscal 2019 state budget to test a pilot congestion reduction program. He then promised that the administration would do an analysis of the congestion problem and issue a report with recommendations this spring, by the first week of May. Still no report all these months later, and congestion increases by the day.

According to Jim Rooney, head of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the region’s public transit system and traffic congestion are now at “crisis levels.”

Meet the Author
Heading in the “right direction” with the T and ignoring the congestion problem fall dramatically short of the urgency required. The public is looking for real solutions to both problems.

Michael Widmer is an analyst of Massachusetts state government who lives in Belmont.