The Codast: Dogged advocate for putting more bodies on trains

In the world of transit advocacy, there are those who push for sweeping changes such as regional rail, connecting the Red and Blue subway lines, or doing away with transit fares. And then there are people like Richard Prone, who advocates for smaller, nitty gritty initiatives that nevertheless play an influential role in the broader debate.

Prone spent most of his working life as a train engineer and now, in retirement, serves as the Duxbury representative on the MBTA Advisory Board. He is a relentless advocate for the South Shore at meetings of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, where he shows up week after week during the public comment period and uses his two minutes of speaking time to doggedly make the case for policies he believes will help his neighbors and increase commuter rail ridership.

“You have to be persistent and you have to make sense,” he said on the Codcast.

Prone watched with alarm as the T did away with special commuter rail family fares in 2012 and then in 2017 briefly considered doing away with all weekend commuter rail service to help balance the agency’s budget.

For Prone, the solution was to move in the opposite direction. Give passengers a more reasonable fare (from his station in Kingston the round trip to South Station was $23) and schedule service at more convenient times. The last trains from Boston to the South Shore left before 11 p.m., in some cases well before 11. “That’s good for about six innings of a [Red Sox] baseball game,” he said.

He pushed for a flat all-you-can ride weekend fare patterned after a similar deal offered in Chicago. After several years of advocacy, the T finally came around last year, deciding to let passengers travel as much as they want on Saturday and Sunday for $10. The fare-paying passenger could also bring along two children under 12 for free.

The $10 weekend fare has been a success. In its first six months, 180,000 weekend passes were sold and, despite the lower fare, revenue was up 4.6 percent, or about $350,000.

Prone also lobbied for later departure times for the last trains leaving South Station for the South Shore. Prone argued someone wanting to attend a play, a concert, or a sporting event couldn’t run the risk of missing the last train so they would instead drive into Boston. He proposed moving the departure times of the last train leaving South Station to around 11:30 p.m. “This was such a no-brainer,” he said.

Behind the scenes, Prone marshalled support from every community on the South Shore and demonstrated how the proposal wouldn’t cost the T any additional money. But meeting after meeting, Prone’s appeal for later departure times fell on deaf ears. “I couldn’t understand why change was so slow to come by when to me it was just common sense,” he said.

Just when the T appeared to be warming to the idea, the proposal hit a snag in early May. Paul Regan, the executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, said during the May 6 public comment period of the Fiscal and Management Control Board that the T appeared to be backing away from an earlier commitment. He said he was skeptical of the T’s claim that shifting an existing train to a later departure time would cost the transit agency an extra $200,000 a year. Even so, he said, adding 10 additional riders to each train would generate $218,000 per year in new revenue, enough to offset any additional costs.

Prone told the control board he felt betrayed. “Give me a break,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of getting the short shrift from the MBTA.”

A week later, the T came around, agreeing to move back the departure times starting this fall. Prone said he never understood the T’s reluctance to embrace fares and schedules that could put more bodies in seats and maximize the value of the T’s investment in its commuter rail lines.

“I don’t want to call it a secret society, but it’s very hard to penetrate the different levels of bureaucracy at the T,” Prone said.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s proposed $1.3 billion grant program for cities and towns to address clean energy and climate resiliency issues will be unveiled today by a House committee. (Boston Globe)

Sarah Goodfriend of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization of Women says it’s time to pass menstrual equity legislation on Beacon Hill. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Ronald Alexander, a government gadfly extraordinaire, has a remarkable ability to piss people off. (CommonWealth)

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston is rolling out a variation on the Working Cities Challenge to assist Vermont’s smaller towns, and the program could expand to New Hampshire and Maine. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Colorado has sharply cut teenage pregnancies by handing out free birth control. (New York Times)

Congressman Seth Moulton asked a Memorial Day crowd to remember his friend James Hassel, who heroically saved another Marine’s life in Iraq in 2004 and then later died of a heart attack caused by the medication he was prescribed to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. (Salem News)

At the Silk Road in Cambridge, Adila Sadir and others who run the restaurant, have family back home in China who are locked up in what some have called concentration camps because they belong to the Uyghur minority. (WGBH)

Joseph Stiglitz says American democracy is under assault by a tyranny of the minority. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Kevin Peterson urges Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has raised the issue of reparations for black Americans on the presidential campaign trail, to champion a dialogue on race here in Massachusetts. (CommonWealth)

There is now a supermajority of women in four of the five elected seats on the Truro Selectboard. (Cape Cod Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A Logan Airport contractor has been fined for falsifying payroll records for low-wage service workers. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

A Berkshire Eagle editorial applauds the Springfield Diocese for finally identifying and publicizing the deep-rooted problems, most of them self-inflicted, facing Catholic schools in the area.

Lisa Guisbond of Citizens for Public Schools writes an open letter to Boston’s new school superintendent, Brenda Cassellius. (CommonWealth)

A donation from a West Dennis man pays outstanding meal debts for 136 students in the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District. (Cape Cod Times)

Lawmakers say they’re making progress on a sweeping bill to update the state’s education funding formula. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The impending closure of Union Hospital in Lynn is already raising concerns, as the emergency room at Salem Hospital is struggling to keep up with the arrival of more patients. (Daily Item)

Quincy city officials say they’ve vaccinated about 70 people since a week-long free clinic was opened amid reports that a baby with the measles virus had visited several spots in the city.

The clinics, which are open to adults, are being held daily 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Friday. (Patriot Ledger)

Boston Medical Center selected North Shore Community Health to be part of a multistate federal research study aiming to cut opioid deaths by 40 percent over three years. (Gloucester Daily Times)

ARTS/CULTURE

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said the racist treatment that black and Latino seventh-graders experienced at the Museum of Fine Arts is a “direct attack on everything we stand for as a city,” and suggested training could play a positive role. (WGBH) The museum banned two patrons for their racist behavior but refuted accusations that museum staff acted inappropriately. (Universal Hub)

TRANSPORTATION

Alon Levy, Josh Fairchild, and James Aloisi kick the tires on electric battery buses and say they come up short — for now. They favor electric trolley buses. (CommonWealth)

An amendment to the Senate budget would require the MBTA to provide more frequent service on the Fairmount commuter rail line. (Dorchester Reporter)

Jason Gilbert, interim director of Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, told Congresswoman Lori Trahan that veterans without cars need help getting to work and to medical and counseling appointments. (Eagle-Tribune)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Trump administration is mounting an attack on climate science. (New York Times) In Europe, meanwhile, voters are abandoning the established parties over their failure to address climate change. (Washington Post)

A 50-million-pound drop in the herring catch has led New England lobster harvesters to look for other meat to bait their traps, and candidates include carp from the Midwest, pogies from the Gulf of Mexico, or pig hides. (WBUR)

CASINOS

Casinos and sports betting outfits have reached agreement on the basics of legalized sports betting in an effort to head off a conflict as the issue moves to Beacon Hill. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Lawrence Friedman explains why Massachusetts is right to be an outlier on the issue of term limits for judges. (CommonWealth)

Cape & Islands District Attorney MIchael O’Keefe, in an op-ed piece clearly directed as new Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins, rips the “social justice district attorney” agenda, saying it gets most everything wrong about the crime and safety issue. (Boston Globe)

Thomas Schoolcraft received one of only four pardons that Gov. Deval Patrick issued, but the enduring ban on his ability to legally own a gun has made his life a “living hell,” he says, blocked a career in corrections. (Gloucester Daily Times)

The Brockton Enterprise reports local police picked up a suspect in Friday night’s murder at the Worcester police station on Sunday. Queito Miranda of Brockton is the second man to be taken into custody in relation to the killing of 32-year-old Earl Thomas on Highland Street.

MEDIA

Ken Doctor analyzes the recent layoffs at GateHouse Media and what they say about the shrinking news industry. (Nieman Journalism Lab) Doctor also includes a crowd-sourced spreadsheet with layoffs by publication. Locally, 10 jobs were cut at the Telegram & Gazette, four at the Herald News, two at the Patriot Ledger, three at the Standard-Times, and one at The Enterprise.

Media professor Dan Kennedy writes of a victory in small-town newspaper ownership. The Hull Times has been sold and will remain in local hands. (Media Nation)

PASSINGS

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Former Red Sox player Bill Buckner dies, and Daily Item columnist Steve Krause says it’s a shame he is remembered for an error that allowed the New York Mets to win Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. “What we fans did to that man because of that moment was inexcusable,” says Krause.