Tracking Transportation

Tracking Transportation

Keeping track of transportation

T notes: Seeking transformation amid constraints

T notes: Seeking transformation amid constraints

Transit plays minor role in Baker climate plan

THE MBTA’S Fiscal and Management Control Board heard a series of presentations on Monday about capital projects to transform the bus, subway, and commuter rail lines and the big takeaways were that the costs would be incredibly high and more managers are needed to oversee them.

MBTA officials detailed “transformation” projects for bus, commuter rail, and the Red, Orange, Green, and Blue subway lines. Many of the projects have already received significant investments, but all of them required what appeared to be billions more in the future.

Some talked about the need for new money, including $4.5 billion for new bus maintenance facilities, while others warned of shortfalls ahead. A presentation by Alistair Sawers, who oversees commuter rail transformation, warned of “potential cliffs” in 2030 for aging locomotives and 2035 for stations.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, a former member of the control board, said when he hears these types of presentations he wants to say yes to all of them. “That’s not the world we live in,” he said. “We’re going to think hard about how we fit all these things in and how we sequence and prioritize them. There’s going to be some constraints.”

In November, Andrew Bagley of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, made a presentation to the control board in which he said capital funding sources are likely to fall off a cliff in fiscal 2025. “There’s a capital cliff coming and without additional resources you’re going to face some extremely difficult challenges in the near future,” Bagley said.

Monday’s presentations also illustrated how some of the transformation projects are lacking leaders, a recurring problem at the T. Sawers is the only T official working on the commuter rail transformation. The bus transformation initiative, while it shares many people from across the T, has no single person in charge.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, vice chair of the control board, said the bus transformation requires someone at the helm. “It’s a little perplexing that wer don’t have the head of this team,” she said. Poftak said he was in agreement, and would hire a new bus lead as soon as possible.

The exchange was similar to one last month between Joe Aiello, the chair of the control board, and Mike O’Dowd, the Department of Transportation project manager for the I-90 Allston interchange project. Aiello asked O’Dowd whether the $1.3 billion Allston project was the only one he was working on. O’Dowd said it was just one of many.

Transit plays minor role in Baker climate change plan

One of the Baker administration’s top climate change experts said public transit doesn’t figure prominently in the state’s roadmap for getting to net zero emissions by 2050.

David Ismay, the undersecretary for climate change in the Baker administration, told the Fiscal and Management Control Board that the administration’s modeling indicates shifting people from cars to public transit and reducing vehicle miles traveled do not yield significant emissions reductions.

“We didn’t find a lot of bulk benefit there,” Ismay said, in part because the time between now and 2050 is short and such initiatives would not yield enough bang for the buck.

Ismay outlined the Baker administration’s roadmap in broad brush strokes, but offered little guidance on when and how the T should decarbonize its operations.

Joe Aiello, the chair of the control board, said the T has set some broad decarbonization goals for 2040 and 2050 but no interim targets. He said he is worried about when to start the process, which will be very expensive. “We don’t turn on a dime like buying an electric vehicle,” he said.

Ismay said he didn’t have any advice. “I don’t know exactly,” he said.

Pollack says goodbye to control board

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said goodbye to the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday and insisted it’s not odd that a long-time transit advocate would be taking the No. 2 job at the Federal Highway Administration.

“It can be an agency that supports people rather than a singular mode of transportation,” she said.

Members of T staff and the control board praised Pollack, but a recurring theme in their remarks was their hope that Massachusetts could benefit from her new-found clout in Washington.

“It’s very comforting to know we will have a friend in Washington,” said T General Manager Steve Poftak.

“It’s nice to know we will have an ally,” said Monica Tibbits-Nutt, vice chair of the board.

Harvard raises concerns on ‘no-build’ Allston option

Harvard raises concerns on ‘no-build’ Allston option

Official points out university’s already-significant investment

A TOP OFFICIAL at Harvard University sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack last week raising concerns about the state’s growing interest in just patching the crumbling elevated section of the Massachusetts Turnpike between Boston University and the Charles River and putting off action on the broader I-90 Allston interchange project.

The letter, written by Harvard’s executive vice president Katherine Lapp, was mailed last Tuesday, eight days after Pollack and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board approved a resolution suggesting the broader project may not go forward unless Harvard and the city of Boston make a “substantial” in the broader $1 billion-plus initiative.

The broader project would replace the crumbling elevated section of the Massachusetts Turnpike between BU and the Charles; rebuild other road and rail transportation infrastructure in the area; build a new MBTA West Station; add new access roads and pedestrian and bicycle paths; and straighten the Turnpike as it moves through the area to make room for the development of a new research-oriented neighborhood by Harvard.

Lapp said Harvard continues to view the project as a public-private partnership, but she said the resolution debated by the MassDOT board failed to take into account the significant investments Harvard has already made in the project.

She noted Harvard paid $227 million to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority in 2000 and 2003 for two key parcels of land in Allston. She noted Harvard was the Turnpike’s only bidder on the land, and the money was used to complete the Central Artery project.

She also noted Harvard acquired the CSX Transportation railyard in the area and purchased another rail spur, both of which allowed the Worcester commuter rail line to begin operating with two tracks. She said Harvard also has committed $58 million to the construction of West Station and provided three acres of parkland to the state for the Paul Dudley White bicycle path.

“The project represents a multi-generational, transformational opportunity to create a western transportation gateway into Boston that will benefit the entire region,” Lapp said in her letter. “Before the project can unlock any development opportunities, however, Harvard will need to make additional significant investment in terms of infrastructure and utilities, including decking and the Cambridge Street Bypass for air rights development over the highway and rail yard. All told, it will be over 30 years from Harvard’s initial investment to purchase the land from the Commonwealth before development potential in the area may be realized.”

Lapp dismissed the debate among state transportation officials on whether to build the broader project, using one of three options, or pursue what is being called a “no-build” approach, which would entail patching the crumbling elevated section of the Turnpike and leaving the rest of the project for later. Resurrecting quotes from past studies done by the state, Lapp said the no-build option would not meet the safety and transportation priorities set out by the state.

“Moreover, the no-build option is neither a ‘no disruption,’ nor a ‘no-cost’ option,” she said. “The disruption to Turnpike drivers and commuter rail riders during the construction period for repairing the viaduct is likely to be extensive. The no-build approach would leave Allston divided in two, rather than rejoining neighborhoods. And the no-build option will cost hundreds of millions of dollars for a temporary fix without addressing the real need to improve the major emergency egress route for the city of Boston, as well as to create a needed western transportation gateway into the city.”

Lapp said a public consensus has emerged in support of replacing the elevated section of the Turnpike and other transportation infrastructure in the area with an all at-grade approach, which would unlock major regional and local economic benefits.

Given all that, Lapp said, “we are troubled that the no-build option continues to be considered as an alternative, and worse, presented as a viable fallback option.”

Pollack, who is leaving Tuesday to take the No. 2 job at the Federal Highway Administration, has said the state currently lacks the funds to do a $1 billion project. Lapp, even before Pollack’s new appointment was announced, urged the transportation secretary to use Harvard’s “significant contributions” as a platform to leverage federal funding for the project.

“The project has credible private partners and, in our view, fits perfectly into the multi-modal, public-private partnership, innovative transit-oriented development themes that federal financing programs favor,” Lapp wrote.

We can’t follow on transportation; we must lead

We can’t follow on transportation; we must lead

Baker policies misaligned with sustainability goals

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER, and that particularly includes time serving in public office.  For some, longevity in office can be a rare opportunity to make impactful change; for others, it can become a drag on creativity and effectiveness.  In Massachusetts, we are about to see a change at the top of the state’s transportation secretariat as the Biden administration has selected Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack to become deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

The new secretary of transportation, Jamey Tesler, is someone I know well. He’s a top-notch appointment, a first-rate person with a first-rank intellect. I do not say this lightly: when I was transportation secretary, I appointed him to be my chief deputy despite push back from the governor’s office because Jamey had been an advisor to officials in prior Republican administrations.

I knew Jamey well enough to know that he was professional to the core, neither a partisan nor an ideologue. He was, instead, a talented lawyer, the kind of lawyer who counsels.  Counselling is an old-fashioned way to describe the lawyer’s role, but it is exactly the quality you want in a legal advisor – or in a public official.  It means someone who is thoughtful, measured, persuasive. Jamey’s more than a lawyer, of course. During our time working together in various capacities over the years, I appreciated Jamey’s intellectual curiosity, his inclination to embrace problem-solving and collaboration, and his essential decency as a human being.  For all these reasons and more I have confidence he will be a good secretary.

He has his work cut out for him.  Much remains incomplete, delayed, or undone. He is inheriting Massachusetts transportation policies that are misaligned with the needs of our time, profoundly inconsistent with state climate policy, and destined to set back efforts to improve the metro Boston economy and public health as we slowly but surely transition to the post-COVID era.

Of course, these are not the policies of the soon-to-be former secretary; they are, most decidedly, the policies of the Baker administration.  And therein lies the great challenge, and the likely frustration ahead, because cabinet secretaries do not set state policy and they too often do not even set transportation policy. Despite protestations to the contrary, governors (and their executive staff) tend to micromanage all aspects of the government they were elected to lead.

For a time, it appeared that Massachusetts was about to enter into a new phase in its transportation history, one that made sustainability, equity, and access priorities.  The governor’s Commission on the Future of Transportation set the right tone as it cautioned that chronic traffic congestion, inequitable and inadequate modal alternatives to driving, and the importance of addressing air quality in metro Boston converged on one, simple but powerful principle: Massachusetts needs to move more people in fewer vehicles.

Massachusetts needs to move more people in fewer vehicles.  That was true before the COVID-19 pandemic; it remains true today. There is no absence of clarity here: the pandemic won’t last forever (nothing ever does), and there is persuasive evidence (more than mere hope or conjecture) that the worst of it will be out of our lives before the end of 2021, thanks largely to efficacious vaccines and the adoption of behaviors (mask wearing in certain public settings; better hygiene) that help improve public health in a variety of ways.

COVID-19 is a massive pattern break, an event that permanently changes how people live. A different pattern break, the terrorist attacks on 9/11, permanently changed how we fly, how we gain access to public and private buildings, and altered the public realm with features designed to protect certain high-value public and private sector buildings from attack.  These changes were made largely as a matter of security necessity and common sense.  What changes will COVID-19 make to our lives that will be adopted on a large-scale basis?

The answer to that question is not immediately evident, despite many articles from pundits, prognosticators, and futurists who apparently have been imbued with clairvoyant wisdom. As Yogi Berra, said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  The real answer lies not in guesswork but in action, in the deliberate enactment of policies that respond to the pandemic in ways that are targeted to improve people’s lives.

In the transportation sector, improving lives means providing more modal alternatives and better access, attracting transit and rail riders to new service delivery models that respond to 21st century work and lifestyles, and altering streetscapes and the urban public realm to encourage more, safer cycling and walking.

Transportation policies that follow these guidelines will also improve public health by reducing particulates, improve economies (especially small business economies) by supporting foot traffic and agglomeration effects, improve social cohesion by providing an integrated egalitarian transport network. And it means doing all this equitably, addressing the access needs of people across regions and being mindful of the importance of affordable transit and rail service.

The Baker administration has embarked on a deliberate policy of following rather than leading.  It has embraced an auto mobility future by explicitly calling on commuter rail riders to drive and by focusing its transport sector emissions reduction policies primarily on the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. This commitment to an auto mobility future is enshrined in the Environmental Secretary’s Interim Clean Energy and Climate Plan, which promotes an electric vehicle-only approach to transport emissions reduction, with no action plan to encourage mode shift. This policy is enabled by Secretary Pollack’s decision, amplified by the governor, to take a passive “let’s wait and see” attitude about transit ridership return. This policy was rightly characterized in a New York Times editorial last week as “small-minded and short-sighted”.

As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, specifically the winding down that will inevitably come with widespread vaccinations before the fall of 2021, the MBTA will find itself utterly unprepared to meet demand.  By definition, you cannot meet demand if your policy is to wait for riders to return before providing frequent and reliable service.  If the service is not ready when the riders are, the riders will turn to driving as a substitute. Rather than devote time to rethinking how to deliver transit service, a service model that adopts all day frequencies that accommodate flexible work hours and reduce crowding, the MBTA is cutting service, confusing riders, and playing “wait and see.”

The administration’s policies are outright antagonistic to transit, an attitude reflected in the governor’s veto of legislation increasing ride-hailing fees, his veto of means-tested fares, and his veto of a road pricing commission.  “We need to understand the future of work,” his veto message states, “and its impact on when, where, and how congestion will return.”  This statement embodies the flawed thinking that informs the administration’s policies: it assumes that government should be passive rather than proactive, and it assumes that road pricing is only something to be considered as a way to manage traffic congestion, rather than as a way to reduce public sector subsidy of auto mobility.

The administration’s policy towards the reconstruction of the Turnpike in Allston similarly reflects this antagonism toward sustainable mobility. This project is a prime example of a rare opportunity to provide better access and mobility while correcting the design and construction mistakes of mid-20th Century planning. An elevated highway that separates communities from the Charles River, that is by definition more expensive to maintain, with an unsafe, functionally deficient design featuring a badly curved alignment with severe reverse curves, ought to be replaced by an at-grade highway that opens up opportunities for critically important sustainable mobility features. These features include the Allston buffer park and Agganis Way connector, pedestrian and bike connections associated with the Grand Junction bridge over the Charles River, maintenance of two-track rail service on the Worcester commuter rail line throughout the construction period of the project to prioritize an early build West Station, and increased frequency of service on the Worcester-Framingham line, provisions for level boarding at Worcester Branch stations, and the addition of a third “passing track” in Wellesley, Natick, and Framingham.

These initiatives would reduce emissions along the I-90 corridor, provide better access to residents from Worcester to Boston, and support sustainable mobility in the Allston/Cambridge inner core communities.  The administration’s current inclination to abandon these important initiatives in favor of a “patch and repair” job that doubles down on auto mobility and kicks the can for another decade or more is emblematic of its auto-centric, unsustainable approach to building a better metro Boston following the pandemic.

These policies will inevitably increase auto mobility and regional and urban vehicle miles traveled. The consequence of increasing urban and suburban auto mobility has massive implications for metro Boston and statewide climate goals.  It also has significant impacts on the continuation and possible worsening of particulate matter emissions in inner core communities. A number of recent studies have demonstrated the severely negative public health implications of transportation sector emissions.  These issues are inextricably linked to social equity in inner core communities lsuch as Chelsea, Revere, and East Boston. It is not hyperbole to observe that these policies are rooted in old 20th Century, structurally racist and directionally elitist, thinking.

What’s worse, the Baker administration’s decarbonization plan for the transport sector is profoundly inconsistent, an inconsistency so glaring that (unless it is the result of pure cynicism) raises questions regarding the internal coordination of administration policy. As laid out in the interim climate plan forf2030, the state’s approach to reducing transportation sector emissions is an electric vehicle-only approach, one that is dismissive of mode shift or other policies that will also reduce emissions.

If the Commonwealth is committed to an electric vehicle only (or primarily) approach to decarbonization, the governor’s veto of a road pricing commission makes no sense.  By definition, a migration to electric vehicles means the end of the gas tax as the primary transportation funding source, and it means the end of any revenue anticipated from the Transportation Climate Initiative.  What revenue source will replace these?  The answer must be fair, transparent road pricing.  Failure to acknowledge this head-on is remarkable.

As the Baker administration finds itself calling for fairly rapid transition to an electric vehicle-only auto mobility paradigm, it continues to oppose or drag its feet on electrification of its regional rail network. The Commonwealth cannot lead from behind on this critical issue. If it is truly committed to a large-scale transition to electric vehicles, it must show leadership by committing to and advancing electrification of all commuter rail lines by 2035.

It must also commit to keep in place all current trolley electric bus systems and installing infrastructure necessary to begin the transition to battery electric buses. That will require new funding and include new garage and charging facilities as well as in-route charging infrastructure allowing the bus to top up its batteries at chargers located at selected stops along its route, extending its operating range throughout the day without requiring it to return to home base. These are not trivial investments, but they are essential if the Commonwealth means what it says, and desires to reduce transportation sector emissions primarily through an electrification initiative.

We are fast approaching an inflection point that will determine whether Massachusetts, and especially metro Boston, will build back better from the pandemic.  If we fail to transform transit service delivery to provide frequent all-day service; if we fail to remake urban streetscapes to provide dedicated bus lanes, safe protected cycling lanes, and complete streets; if we fail to encourage mode shift at a meaningful scale and on a regional basis, we will find ourselves returning to the deeply unsatisfactory pre-COVID status quo.  That would be generationally irresponsible.

There’s still time to get this right, but the sands are quickly flowing through the hourglass.  The new transportation secretary has a lot on his plate. The administration’s policies remain misaligned with its own stated sustainability goals. These are the realities we must deal with as we work together to build a better future for everyone in metro Boston.

James Aloisi is a former state secretary of transportation and a board member of TransitMatters.

Baker faces same choice Sargent did in 1972

Baker faces same choice Sargent did in 1972

Don’t elevate a highway above an urban community

IN 1972, Republican Gov. Francis W. Sargent confronted the question of whether to perpetuate a decades-old plan to run the I-95 highway through Boston neighborhoods, or to adopt a forward-looking, community-inspired plan that swept away outdated ideas. It took courage for the governor to abandon the obsolete notion of building an elevated interstate through Roxbury and Jamaica Plain and instead to invest in environmentally sensitive infrastructure that would encourage economic development along the Southwest Corridor.

Sargent and his secretary of transportation, Alan Altshuler, found a way to pay for that plan and rebuild failing roads and rail facilities in those neighborhoods with federal and state public funds.

Today’s pending reconstruction of I-90 now looming over Boston’s Allston neighborhood presents an uncanny opportunity to do the same good. Our governor faces the equivalent question of whether to perpetuate a decades-old idea – a highway viaduct built above an urban community – or to seize, as Sargent did, the exciting alternative put forward by private citizens. The Allston project would open the door to a similar 50-year economic development plan and new parkland, forever reclaiming a critical part of Boston for the benefit of the region.

In both cases, major universities benefit from a new public-oriented plan, and so they should – along with every other citizen of Boston. Northeastern University in the Southwest Corridor in the 1970s, and Harvard and Boston University today in Allston, have long served their different communities as cornerstone educational institutions. They have expended their own funds to reclaim fallow, post-industrial lands and hold them for more productive public-oriented purposes.

Harvard’s cost in acquiring railroad freight yards and related industrial rights in Allston was substantial and will be increased by its $58 million commitment to help the Commonwealth pay for the new West Station. To expect Harvard to also bear the cost of rebuilding I-90 or more of the passenger railroad that serves the public at-large is to overstate the obligations of any private university and to ask it to do the work of a public agency.

At the beginning of 2021, as our new president proposes major investment in national infrastructure, it is unthinkable that the Commonwealth would repeat highway design mistakes made in the 1960s, or even suggest rebuilding an elevated highway adjacent to the Charles River and above one of the last major undeveloped parcels in Boston.

Belief in a common public good was at the heart of Sargent’s transformative decision. The Commonwealth’s responsibility for that good should not be disregarded by calling it the obligation of a university land owner. The history of the Southwest Corridor Project surely shows that the creation of public good is the duty of government.

Anthony Pangaro, who retired as head of Millennium Partners-Boston, was the director of the Southwest Corridor Project from 1973 to 1980.  Kenneth Kruckemeyer is a partner at Strategies for Cities and was assistant director/director of the Southwest Corridor Project from 1973 to 1982.

T general manager receives $20,800 bonus

T general manager receives $20,800 bonus

Poftak’s 6.4% payout was for work in 2019

MBTA GENERAL MANAGER Steve Poftak, who receives a base salary of $324,800 a year, recently received a bonus of $20,800 for 2019.

Based on pre-established performance goals, Poftak was eligible for a bonus equal to 10 percent of his salary in 2019, the first year of his three-year contract. Instead, he received a 6.4 percent bonus, which was granted in November 2020.

Poftak is eligible for a bonus of up to 15 percent for 2020 and up to 20 percent for 2021, according to his contract. Poftak and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who is leaving her post next week to take a job at the Federal Highway Administration, agreed that a decision on any bonus for 2020 will be deferred for the time being, said Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation.

Besides being eligible for bonuses, Poftak is guaranteed a 1.5 percent salary bump every year.

Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s deputy general manager, is eligible for bonuses as well, but he has not gotten any.  “Gonneville neither requested nor received a bonus last year or this year,” said MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesatoro.  Gonneville’s current annual salary is $258,000.

The performance goals by which Poftak is evaluated for earning his bonuses are fiscal discipline and financial management, human capital, customer experience, and system condition and performance.

Poftak is among many state employees who make more than Gov. Charlie Baker, who earns $185,000 a year.

Pollack headed to Federal Highway Administration

Pollack headed to Federal Highway Administration

Tesler to serve as acting transportation secretary

THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION on Thursday tapped Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack as deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, creating a yawning void in the state’s transportation bureaucracy.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced that Jamey Tesler, who currently runs the Registry of Motor Vehicles, will serve as acting secretary once Pollack steps down on Tuesday.

The appointment of Pollack to the federal highway administrator’s job is another step in her evolution. She started out as a left-leaning, pro-tax, transit advocate working at the Conservation Law Foundation and Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy; moved on to be a fierce advocate for her Republican boss’s cautious, no-tax transportation policies; and now is headed to Washington to deal with highway issues.

Often described as the smartest person in whatever room she is in, Pollack demonstrated a strong command of just about every facet of state transportation. Where she struggled at times was trying to bridge the gap between the strong desire among transportation advocates and many on Beacon Hill to rapidly modernize the state’s transit system and her boss’s desire to do so on a much slower timetable.

James Aloisi, a former secretary of transportation himself who current serves on the TransitMatters board, called Pollack’s appointment in 2015 “a solid and stunning choice.” In an interview on Thursday, he said his high expectations back then came down to earth as he came to realize that Pollack viewed her job as working for and carrying out the policies of the governor. He said her approach was understandable, and helps explain why she held on to the secretary’s post for six years, longer than her three predecessors combined.

“She was very transparent from the get-go. She has been a highly effective lawyer/advocate for her client’s position,” he said, referring to Baker.

But Aloisi described her tenure as “a missed opportunity,” citing her inaction on some of the biggest transportation issues facing the state – the Allston I-90 interchange, a Red-to-Blue line connector on the subway system, and her failure to push for swift electrification of the commuter rail system.

Pollack is a tireless administrator, but the constant fighting between transportation advocates and the Baker administration over the last several years appeared to take its toll. “I have the sense that she hasn’t been happy in the job for awhile,” Aloisi said.

At a State House press conference, Baker praised Pollack, calling her “a terrific performer” who will be great asset to the Biden administration. “It’s a bummer for us, but we do now have somebody in Washington who really understands what we’re about,” suggesting that familiarity might help the state as it tries to secure federal funding.

Tesler brings vast experience to his new job, having served as chief operating officer, chief of staff, and assistant secretary for procurement for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. He has also held jobs at the MBTA, the state treasurer’s office, and in the legal office of former governor Jane Swift.

Pollack tapped Tesler as registrar of motor vehicles in 2019 when that agency was engulfed in controversy after a truck driver impaired by multiple drugs mowed down seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire. It was subsequently discovered that the driver should have had his license suspended by the Registry of Motor Vehicles after he had his driving privileges revoked in another state, but the agency failed to act on the notice it received about the earlier driving infraction.

Aloisi said Tesler was his top deputy when he was secretary of transportation under Deval Patrick. “He was the person I went to for advice three or four times a day,” Aloisi said. He called Tesler a terrific choice and said the secretary’s job is in good hands.

Tesler faces a huge decision over the next several months on the I-90 Allston interchange project. The city of Boston and most transportation advocates have urged Pollack to rebuild at grade level a crumbling elevated section of the Turnpike and other transportation infrastructure between Boston University and the Charles River, straighten the Turnpike in that area, and build a new commuter rail station to make way for a new neighborhood being built by Harvard University.

After years of research, Pollack has failed to make a decision on what construction approach to follow. In recent months, she has said money for the project is scarce and suggested she may end up patching the crumbling elevated section of the Turnpike and do none of the other elements of the project. Her new Washington job may give her the ability to free up some funding for the project.

Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, who has been the House’s point person on transportation issues, said the Allston I-90 interchange project appears to be at a virtual standstill. He said the departure of Pollack and a change at the bargaining table might be helpful in moving the project along.

“Whether she intended it or not, Stephanie Pollack has become something of a lightening rod,” he said.

Baker appointee ‘mourns’ transportation vetoes

Baker appointee ‘mourns’ transportation vetoes

Tibbits-Nutt calls governor’s actions ‘heart-breaking’

ONE OF GOV. CHARLIE BAKER’S top transportation appointees took to Twitter on Tuesday to mourn four ”heart-breaking vetoes” the governor made last week to the transportation bond bill.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, who serves on the boards of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board,  said in a long series of tweets that the $16.5 billion bond bill that became law last week contained much to like. But she said the governor’s vetoes of a congestion pricing commission, higher fees on Uber and Lyft rides, means-tested fares, and a grant program for transportation management associations were disappointing.

“Many of the vetoes represent missed opportunities for building a more equitable transportation system for all residents of the Commonwealth,” she said.

In his veto message, Baker said much more needs to be understood about the nature of work post-COVID before launching a congestion pricing commission. Tibbitts-Nutt, however, said the commission was a chance to gather real data about ways of addressing congestion problems.

“The ‘new normal’ WILL include congestion,” she tweeted. “We have the same antiquated street systems, the same housing crisis, the same inequitable distribution of alternative transportation options. Increased telework is not going to alleviate all of the factors driving our congestion.”

Tibbits-Nutt also lamented the governor’s veto of a new fee structure for Uber and Lyft rides, which Baker rejected as too complicated and premature. Tibbits-Nutt disagreed, saying the new fees would bring in at least $56 million a year and incentivize Massachusetts residents to share rides or use public transit.

“We are continuing to prioritize private companies creating SOV [single occupancy vehicle] trips over higher-occupancy, publicly-funded modes,” she tweeted.

Means-tested fares were a high priority for Tibbits-Nutt, who has championed their study and development at the MBTA. The provision in the bond bill would have required the T to move forward with reduced fares for low-income people and also set the stage for regional transit authorities to follow suit. Baker vetoed the measure because of uncertainties about the cost of foregoing fare revenue.

“Without an actual commitment to action, we will just continue debating & studying. Meanwhile, we are missing an essential opportunity to make our transit system genuinely more equitable,” Tibbits-Nutt tweeted. “I agree that we need more revenue, but that need for revenue should not come on the backs of riders, and citing revenue loss as the reason for further delays feels particularly frustrating when the new [Uber and Lyft] fee structure was also vetoed.”

Tibbits-Nutt also raised concerns about the governor’s veto of a program providing grants to transportation management associations, private organizations that typically provide last-mile services to commuters. Tibbits-Nutt is the executive director of one such association – the 128 Business Council.

Baker vetoes key policy initiatives in transportation bond bill

Baker vetoes key policy initiatives in transportation bond bill

New Uber, Lyft fees and Spilka toll restriction scrapped

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER signed the Legislature’s transportation bond bill into law on Friday, but used his line-item veto to remove proposals raising fees on Uber and Lyft rides, establishing means-tested fares on public transit, and an initiative pushed by Senate President Karen Spilka that would prohibit increases in Turnpike tolls to help pay for the Allston I-90 interchange project.

The $16 billion bond bill authorizes the state to borrow money to finance all sorts of ongoing transportation projects, including bridge repairs, road improvements, and public transit initiatives such as the Green Line extension and South Coast Rail. The bill passed by the Legislature in the wee hours of January 6 also contained a number of new policy initiatives that Baker decided to scrap. Because the Legislature that passed the bill is no longer in session, the governor’s vetoes cannot be overridden.

One key policy initiative in the bill called for replacing the current 20-cent fee on Uber and Lyft rides with a 40-cent fee on shared rides and a $1.20 fee on non-shared rides. The proposal also added a $1 fee on rides in luxury vehicles and a special 20-cent transit fee on all rides originating and ending in 14 communities in the Greater Boston area. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimated the fees would raise upwards of $56 million at current traffic levels.

Baker said the proposal was premature. “This proposal would create a complicated fee structure that is based on pre-pandemic assumptions,” he said in a letter to the Legislature. “Before instituting fees that are aimed at incentivizing certain travel behaviors, we need to understand what ridership and congestion patterns are going to look like after the pandemic.”

In similar fashion, Baker deleted a proposal authorizing the MBTA and possibly regional transit authorities to implement means-tested fares – fares based on the income level of the rider. Even though the governor’s MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board is pushing for means-tested fares, Baker said the legislative provision was also premature.

“More study is needed to understand how transit authorities can implement fare systems that depend on gathering information about riders’ incomes and to understand what the revenue loss would be and how that revenue would be replaced,” Baker said. “No means-tested fares can be implemented until the MBTA and RTAs have a financially sustainable plan in place to replace the lost revenue.”

The Spilka provision, which would bar toll increases to pay for the roughly $1 billion Allston project, was tacked on to a much larger section directing how mitigation for the disruptive project should be handled. In his letter, Baker did not address the toll issue but said the section of the bill he was excising contained conditions that could not be met. He said he would work with the Legislature to address concerns raised by the section.

Baker also vetoed a provision directing that all revenue from the governor’s transportation climate initiative, which places a price on the carbon contained in vehicle fuels, should go into the state’s Commonwealth Transportation Fund. Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, the House’s point person on transportation, inserted the provision to clarify where the revenues should go.

Straus has said he believes the state constitution requires the revenues to go into the transportation fund. Baker, who has said half of the money would go to public transit, disagreed. “I believe it is more appropriate for a significant portion of this funding to be available for more flexible emissions reduction and equity investments,” he said.

Baker also vetoed a provision establishing a congestion pricing commission, saying much more needs to be understood about the future of work before congestion pricing can be considered.

Straus and his Senate counterpart, Joseph Boncore of Winthrop, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Transportation advocates panned the governor’s vetoes, particularly his veto.of new Uber and Lyft fees and his dismantling of the proposal for means-tested fares. “Many of the governor’s vetoes are counter to his own proposals and are inconsistent with recommendations from the 2018 Commission on the Future of Transportation,” said Rick Dimino, president and CEO of the business group A Better City.

Transit Is Essential, a coalition of 60 organizations, lamented the vetoes, singling out the rejection of means-tested fares. The group urged legislative leaders to react to the transportation bond bill vetoes the same way they did to the veto of the climate change bill. “We urge the Massachusetts Legislature to act swiftly to pass these provisions again and to take action on stable, recurring revenue dedicated to transit statewide,” the group said in a statement.

Proposed Uber, Lyft fees could raise up to $112m

Proposed Uber, Lyft fees could raise up to $112m

Assessments included in bill on governor’s desk

NEW FEES on Uber and Lyft rides contained in the transportation bond bill sitting on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk could raise somewhere between $56 million and $112 million, according to an analysis by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

The state currently assesses a 20-cent fee on all Uber and Lyft rides. The proposal in the bond bill would replace the current fee with a 40-cent fee on shared rides, a $1.20 fee on non-shared rides, an extra $1 fee on rides in luxury cars, and an extra 20-cent transit fee on rides starting and ending in an area encompassing Boston, Cambridge, and 12 other contiguous  communities.

Eric Bourassa, director of transportation at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said the council hopes and expects the governor to sign the legislation. “We wanted to highlight how this is a nice, modest increase in funds for transportation,” he said of the revenue analysis.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimated potential revenues using two potential scenarios – one using the actual ride data from 2019 (91.1 million trips in all) and the other cutting the number of trips in half to reflect current pandemic ridership levels based on financial statements issued by Lyft.

The analysis indicates total revenues would range from $56.2 million to $112.4 million, with 84 percent of the money coming from shared and solo rides. The 20-cent transit fee would raise between $6.6 million and $13.2 million. The luxury car fee would raise between $2.3 million and $4.6 million.

The revenue from shared and solo rides is split with 25 percent going to the municipalities where rides originate, 50 percent to the Commonwealth Transportation Fund, and 25 percent to a Transit Authority Fund with the money split evenly between the MBTA and regional transit authorities.

Based on the council’s calculations, municipalities would receive between $13 and $26 million, the Commonwealth Transportation Fund between $25.4 and 56.8 million, and MBTA and regional transit authorities sharing between $11.8 and $23.6 million.

The MBTA alone could pocket between $12.5 million and $25 million if all of the money from the 20-cent transit fee flows to the T as well.

Most T cuts will stand even with new fed money

Most T cuts will stand even with new fed money

Most of the aid will replenish capital spending


THE MBTA will receive at least $250 million in federal funding under the latest COVID-19 stimulus package, but agency officials plan to move forward with most of their planned service cuts and direct most of the new money toward the capital budget.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said Monday that the T expects to get somewhere roughly between $250 million and $300 million in additional support, up to $17 million of which will go toward bumping service back up on high-ridership bus routes and maintaining evening commuter rail service.

Despite calls from activists and lawmakers to change course with the federal aid — plus a $52 million upgrade in the T’s state sales tax revenue outlook — the agency plans otherwise to “proceed with a majority of service changes” that the Fiscal and Management Control Board approved in December, Poftak said.

The T will use up to $178 million from the latest federal injection to replenish the MBTA’s capital budget, he said, after officials transferred out about $460 million to help cope with a massive projected deficit inflicted by the pandemic.

That money will mostly be allocated in the spring, and Poftak said officials have already decided to revive work on the Winchester Center Station, which had been designed but was paused in the cost-cutting efforts.

Any stimulus money left over will be saved until fiscal year 2022 and used to bring back service at that point “when we have the ridership and the demand, or at least the expectation of that demand,” Poftak said. “When we’re ready to serve those customers, we will have a source of funding to restore that service.”

Key details about the federal package and its impacts remain uncertain. Poftak said the T is waiting for additional guidance from federal agencies that will dictate exactly how much funding it gets this round, and officials have not yet determined which bus lines will get additional service as a result.

Officials have also offered little information about workforce impacts despite saying for months that layoffs are on the table. Asked during Monday’s board meeting about staffing levels, Poftak replied that he could not offer a definitive answer until the T finalizes the updated bus and transit schedules for the spring.

“We are still in the process of developing what the schedules look like,” he said. “The places with the biggest impact on staffing would be bus and rapid transit, so I don’t have anything declarative on that right now. We’re still determining what the game plan is in terms of as we plan service and as we control headcount.”

The T Board previously approved its service cut plans on a 3-2 vote. Baker administration officials have been hesitant to keep service running on full schedules while ridership is a fraction of pre-pandemic levels, and have said they would aim to keep additional federal aid as a reserve to help boost service once greater demand emerges.

In a December statement shortly after Congress approved the relief package, the Transit is Essential coalition called for the MBTA to undo the planned elimination of 20 bus routes, service frequency cuts on the subway, and the shuttering of weekend commuter rail service.

“People across the region continue to rely on transit to make essential trips,” the coalition said. “Reduced service means less access to frontline jobs, health care appointments, grocery stores, and other destinations that people must visit in the midst of this pandemic, as well as increased risk of dangerous crowding on those trips.”

The first cuts aimed at ferries and commuter rail, including elimination of weekend service on seven commuter rail lines, will hit later this month. Changes impacting buses and rapid transit are slated to start in March, just before state government plans to broadly open up access to the COVID-19 vaccine in April.

T officials announced the scope of the commuter rail changes last week and outlined the ferry plans on Monday. Under the new schedule that takes effect January 23, the MBTA will shutter the Charlestown and Hingham ferries. The Hingham/Hull ferry will run only during weekdays on a reduced schedule.