Taylor: New T board different by design
The new MBTA board is turning out to be very different from its predecessor, and chair Betsy Taylor says that’s by design.
Some of the differences were mandated by the Legislature. The old board, called the Fiscal and Management Control Board, had five members; the new board has seven. The old board typically met twice a month and its meetings often ran long; the new board meets once a month and its meetings follow a very tight schedule.
The big difference isn’t anything mentioned in the legislation creating the board. The old board was a reflection of its name — hands-on, in some cases driving policy at the MBTA. The new board is more reactive, letting T staff set the agenda.
“That’s quite intentional,” said Taylor on The Codcast. “The secretary of transportation and the GM [of the MBTA] worked with the governor and the Legislature to create this new board. They wanted it to be more like the [Department of Transportation] board. They did not want it to be a control board.”
That may sound like a minor tweak, but it’s actually a fundamental shift. Many transportation advocates came to rely on the control board to leverage action at the MBTA, but that may be far less likely now. The MassDOT board, which Taylor has served on the last six years as a finance expert, has a history of ratifying or raising mild concerns about transportation policies, not initiating them.
A good example of the shift at the T is the debate on means-tested fares — fares adjusted based on the income level of the rider. Before its mandate expired in June, the control board held a number of discussions on means-tested fares and passed a resolution directing staff to develop a pilot project to test the concept and present that pilot to the new board in October for action. No pilot has been presented to the board, and advocates at last week’s meeting pressed for an explanation but didn’t get one.
“Whatever work the staff has done will bubble up with [MBTA General Manager] Steve Poftak,” Taylor said. “As I said, we will be discussing the issues of fares in January and we will have public discussion and people will hear what that discussion is.”
Asked whether the discussion in January will be about means-tested fares or the broader issue of fares, Taylor said she thought it would be the broader issue. But she said there is no current plan to raise fares.
“The current five-year [budget] projections assume there will be no fare increase for five years, so I don’t think there is specific talk [about raising fares],” Taylor said. “I will say, having read and studied those five-year projections, there is a very clear need for some form of additional revenue. There are all sorts of possibilities. I have some ideas. I’m sure my fellow board members have some ideas, but there is no doubt that there is a need for additional revenue.”
Taylor indicated eliminating fares in this environment is not a priority she shares with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, although Taylor said she wants to review studies of how fare-free bus routes have worked. “Right now I think free fares for certain routes help people in places. Means tested fares help people, or should be designed to help people, who need help. So is one going to subsidize places or subsidize people?” Taylor asked. “If I were picking, and I’m only one vote of seven, I’d pick subsidizing people over subsidizing places.”
Taylor said the agenda of the MBTA board is set by her and Poftak. “Right now the GM and I have a conversation before the agenda is finalized,” Taylor said. “The T has certain business it needs to do. It knows when certain contracts need to be approved. The board will take guidance from the staff on that. I can also tell you that we have asked for a list of briefings on some of the large key projects that the T is working on and I expect in January and February to have a schedule of those going out. As we go through those briefings, the board is likely to ask for updates either on the general progress of those issues or on other concerns that arise from the discussions. We’re still a really new board. Just as you have watched us work virtually, we have only worked together virtually. Some of this stuff is going to take tim
In her role on the MassDOT board, Taylor serves on a committee seeking to find financing for the massive I-90 Allston project. She sounds a bit skeptical of the all-at-grade approach favored by transportation advocates and, more recently, the Baker administration, but her biggest concern is financing the project.
“I hope the activists who have pushed so effectively and thoughtfully for one solution now put equal vigor into helping with the environmental reviews and also thinking about who should pay for this,” Taylor said. “That project will have tremendous transportation improvements. It will also create a whole new section of the city. The private developers are only going to build that if they are going to make money out of it. And it’s not going to be on the T’s land. And it’s going to be largely in one city. If people are going to make a lot of money out of building that, maybe, maybe they should contribute to the infrastructure that makes that land so valuable for them.”
It’s all sunny-side up: Lawmakers reach a deal on a measure to tweak a voter-approved law on raising chickens to avoid egg shortages in the new year. Nobody can resist making light of the situation. CommonWealth’s headline: “Egg issue unscrambled as lawmakers hatch compromise deal. Read more.
Brayton Point big winner: The Baker administration announced the state’s third and largest offshore wind procurement, and it’s accompanied by significant onshore development, including a subsea cable manufacturing facility at Brayton Point in Somerset. The plant, proposed by Prysmian Group of Milan, Italy, would be the first piece of the offshore wind supply chain to be built in Massachusetts. Read more.
Facial recognition: A survey of law enforcement agencies taken by a legislative commission finds low use of facial recognition technology. Read more.
Another take: Robert Zimmerman, admittedly late to the debate, offers a new design for the I-90 Allston project, one that avoids encroachment on the Charles River. Read more.
Getting to yes: Margaret Monsell breaks down the Legislature’s options on the governor’s vetoes in the ARPA spending bill. Read more.
Upgrading the grid: Kaitlin Kelly O’Neill of the Coalition for Community Solar Access applauds a DPU proposal to have ratepayers clear a path for more renewables by covering the initial costs of power grid updates. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
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MassLive profiles Edward Augustus, the Worcester city manager who has revitalized the city, giving a rare glimpse into his childhood and his character.
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Muhammad Fahim Salimi is an Afghan refugee trying to build a new life in Northampton while hoping his family can make it out of Afghanistan. (MassLive)
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The Department of Correction fires 60 employees who did not comply with the state’s executive branch COVID vaccine mandate. (MassLive)