Baker philosophically not on Wu’s side
He disagrees with her on a fare-free T, rent control
IN THE RACE for mayor of Boston, Annissa Essaibi George seems to be getting help from Gov. Charlie Baker in delivering the message that some of rival Michelle Wu’s major proposals are fanciful and unlikely to come to fruition.
One of Essaibi George’s major campaign themes is that much of what Wu is promising voters is beyond the city’s control and depends on actions being taken by Beacon Hill, which Essaibi George says is unlikely. Baker is helping to reinforce that message, sometimes more effectively than the candidate herself.
Last week, the governor said emphatically that he was not in favor of eliminating fares on the MBTA, a signature issue of Wu’s, and Tuesday he said he would most likely not be in favor of reinstituting rent control, another measure Wu favors.
“Probably not, but I’m going to leave the door open a little bit,” Baker said on the WGBH’s Boston Public Radio show.
He said rent control tends to discourage the production of affordable housing, which he sees as the key to addressing the high cost of housing. The governor also said rent control offers no predictability to tenants and landlords because some units have rent restrictions while others do not.
Regarding eliminating fares on the T, Baker said last week that he would oppose such a policy. House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, who joined Baker at the same press conference, didn’t state their positions, but neither one embraced Wu’s call for a fare-free MBTA.
During the televised mayoral debate Monday night, Wu stood by her contention that fares should be eliminated on the T, but she indicated it could be a long process to get there. She said she would first try to make certain bus lines free, then make all bus lines free, and finally make the T as a whole fare free.
Essaibi George said eliminating fares on the T would mean Boston taxpayers would have to pick up the entire $2.3 billion cost of the transit authority. When it was pointed out that the T’s fare revenue totals only about $700 million, Essaibi George refused to budge.
“The real number is in the billions of dollars,” she insisted. “We need greater investment in the T, not this walking away from it and calling it free, and then who pays for it. The people of Boston will pay for it.”
Ironically, Essaibi George said she would invest in fare free bus routes to help deal with traffic congestion in the city. She noted the city and the T are in the midst of a fare free pilot on the Route 28 bus, which runs from Mattapan to Ruggles through Dorchester and Roxbury.
“We’ve seen the success with the Number 28 that’s cost the city $30 million and that pilot ends in just a couple weeks,” Essaibi George said. She said the city might also want to make connections to the subway system free.
When Wu was asked whether the $2 million cost of expanding the three-month 28 bus pilot to a year ($500,000 times four) was sustainable, she said: “We did overpay for that pilot.”The route 28 bus pilot began August 29 and runs through the end of November. Boston has budgeted $500,000 for the pilot, including $75,000 for an outside vendor to evaluate how it worked and how much Boston should pay the T for lost bus fare revenue and lost revenue and higher operating costs for paratransit service along the route. Under federal law, the price of paratransit service in an area cannot exceed the cost of regular service.
Ridership appears to be up on the Route 28 bus. The week before the pilot began the bus averaged 7,695 riders per weekday. In the first week of October, the average number of riders per weekday rose to 11,184, an increase of 45 percent.