The Codcast: Everybody talks about transportation

Mark Twain once famously observed, “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.”

The irony is, of course, there’s nothing much you can do about it but grumble. That is perhaps where we are at with transportation, especially public transit, here in Massachusetts. The MBTA is getting a lot of attention in the gubernatorial race, with Democrat Jay Gonzalez constantly trying to hang the decaying system around Gov. Charlie Baker’s neck. But for all the talk, it doesn’t look like it’s hurt Baker’s standing among voters.

Republican Jennifer Nassour and Democrat Jesse Mermell explored the phenomenon on their “Disagreeing Agreeably” program on The Codcast. They were joined by Pioneer Institute’s Charlie Chieppo and Marc Ebuña, from TransitMatters, who had different, albeit not divergent, takes on the state of transportation and later, Rich Parr of MassINC Polling Group joined the conversation to talk about where transportation ranks in importance to voters.

Mermell, perhaps voicing the recurring theme from most, said she enjoys taking public transportation “when it works.” She said the impact of the system on the regional economy should dictate that Baker hop on for a ride, which he so far has declined to do.

Nassour, who lives in Boston, said she walks most places because “I hate driving.” She said she will occasionally take the T but when push comes to shove, she turns to that increasingly ubiquitous challenge to public transportation and the taxi industry.

“If I really need to be someplace, I’ll Uber,” she said.

Mermell and Nassour both pointed out the need for billions in investments to upgrade the MBTA and wondered how much of an effect it will have on next week’s election. Both Chieppo and Ebuña said it will be very little.

“Clearly it is among the top issues people are concerned about but I’m just not sure how many votes it’s going to sway,” Chieppo said. “I think people think it will be bad no matter who is in charge.”

Chieppo said state officials are facing “an existential crisis in transit” that they have to pay attention to or pay the consequences. “There is a huge disconnect between what needs to happen and the politics,” he said. “We’re getting to point where people’s level of rage over traffic conditions has got be heard by their elected officials.”

Ebuña said the problems will have “some small effect but not really enough to sway the election.” He gave Baker credit for tackling some of the problems, including creating the Fiscal and Management Control Board, moving ahead with the Green Line extension and South Coast Rail, and ordering new Red Line cars. He said those fixes aren’t going to yield immediate benefits but will pay dividends down the line.

“The governor is putting some effort into the ‘boring work,’” he said.

Ebuña said the increase in “micromobility,” such as electric and manual scooters and docked and dockless bicycles, has the “appearance of effectiveness” but is instead distracting from the transit needs.

Parr said the numbers bear out the divide between public outrage and public action. He points out that Baker gets generally high marks for effectiveness but drilling below the surface on specific issues, he gets a low to failing grade from voters for his handling of transportation. But he also continues to poll as one of the most popular governors in the country and holds a commanding 35 to 39 point lead over Gonzalez, depending on the poll.

He also said while most people agree in the abstract that more money needs to be put toward transportation, they balk at various specifics to pay for it.

Nassour said some of the problems rest with the late Boston mayor Thomas Menino, who saw the growing population and building boom in Boston but failed to forge public-private partnerships to address the problems before they occurred.

Chieppo, though, said crises are usually what gets people’s attention and trigger action.

“When you find a politician who is willing to fix signals and tracks before there is a crisis, let me know because I will absolutely vote for that person,” he said.

JACK SULLIVAN


 BEACON HILL

At the request of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the Baker administration tallied up the cost to the state of the National Grid lockout of more than 1,200 workers. The cost includes $13 million in unemployment benefits, plus additional charges for food stamps and MassHealth. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

With Lowell facing a voter rights lawsuit, members of the City Council engaged in a battle over a move to change the way they are elected. (Lowell Sun) The whole issue was brought to light in an article in CommonWealth entitled “Why whites control Lowell city government.”

Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia, under the cloud of a federal fraud indictment, urged his backers not to sign a recall petition but vowed that if the effort is successful he will run for reelection in the recall election. (Herald News)

How do you license a fortune teller? asks Paul DeBole. In Massachusetts, we leave that job to municipal officials who often have to familiarize themselves with scrying and augury. (CommonWealth)

Quincy city councilors were split on Mayor Thomas Koch’s plan to reorganize several city departments including parks and cemeteries into one agency, arguing heatedly about the need for new hires proposed in the plan. (Patriot Ledger)

Falmouth selectmen approved a lower fee for mandatory fingerprinting for 123 small businesses under a new ordinance that has come under criticism by many owners and workers in the town. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas says the attack at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh rekindles thoughts of his of his own family’s history and the toxic political climate that encourages those on the fringe.

President Trump’s tax cut is making it much easier for large fortunes to be passed down in inheritance. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Another poll shows support for Question 1 slipping. (WBUR)

More than $250,000 has poured into the race between Rep. Jim Lyons of Andover and his Democratic challenger Tram Nguyen, with Nguyen snaring $163,000 of the money. (Eagle-Tribune)

Environmental organizations and activists give Gov. Charlie Baker poor grades on energy and environmental issues. (Boston Globe) Sen. Elizabeth Warren gave Baker a grade of C for his first term, while her Republican opponent Geoff Diehl gave him a B. (MassLive)

After getting the cold shoulder from the usually liberal leaning Boston Globe, Democratic state auditor Suzanne Bump gets the endorsement of the conservative Boston Herald. In the state treasurer’s race, the Herald backs Republican challenger Keiko Orrall over incumbent Democrat Deborah Goldberg. The Lowell Sun endorsed Lori Trahan in the race to replace Niki Tsongas in the US House.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and challenger Geoff Diehl tangled in their final debate before Tuesday’s election. (Boston Globe) A couple of red state Democratic senators in tough reelection fights are putting some distance between themselves and Warren, a sign of the lightning rod she has become in national politics. (Boston Globe)

Mark Horan, who worked as a consultant to US Rep. Michael Capuano, sees a millennial wave coming on Election Day. (CommonWealth)

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito is taking flak for comments in her debate on Monday that there is blame for incendiary rhetoric in American politics on both the right and left. (Boston Herald) Her line is pretty much the stance taken by Gov. Charlie Baker in a Globe op-ed.

Scot Lehigh sizes up the candidacy of Republican Rick Green, who is vying for the open Third Congressional District seat, and it’s not a pretty picture. (Boston Globe)

A campaign mailer depicting a Jewish candidate for state senate in Connecticut clutching a lot of money has stirred charges of anti-semitism against his Republican opponent. (Hartford Courant)

Things are looking up for Republicans in the US Senate, where they could now actually increase their ranks by one or two seats. (National Review)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

More bad news for GE, as the company cuts its dividends to shareholders and its stock price drops further. (Boston Globe) Jon Chesto says new CEO Larry Culp better move fast to shore up investor confidence in the firm. (Boston Globe)

The Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute opens its new research facility. (Gloucester Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

An increase in acorn and nut production has triggered a rise in the squirrel population in the state and, in turn, a spike in the amount of roadkill on Massachusetts streets. (Wicked Local)

A  carbon tax is on the ballot again in Washington state and the chances of its passing are better this time around, although oil companies are spending heavily to defeat it. (Governing)

A new report says animal species around the world have lost 60 percent of their population on average, from a combination of climate change, agriculture, and land conversion. (U.S. News & World Report)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Voters at Holliston Town Meeting approved a proposal to extend the moratorium on retail marijuana until the spring election, when a question will be on the ballot to ban the sale of recreational pot. (MetroWest Daily News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The end: Notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, serving a life sentence for 11 murders, was himself murdered in the West Virginia federal prison he had just been moved to. (Boston Globe) An inmate from West Springfield with ties to the mafia who is serving a life sentence at the prison for a 2003 murder is a suspect in the killing. (Boston Globe) “What goes around, comes around, proclaims Howie Carr. (Boston Herald) At least one person felt bad for Bulger: Janet Ulhar of Eastham, who served on the jury that convicted the 89-year-old mobster and maintained a correspondence with him, said she was “saddened, shocked” by his death. (Cape Cod Times)

An Arlington police lieutenant was placed on paid leave because of articles he wrote for a state law enforcement newspaper suggesting that police should “meet violence with violence.” (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Bots drive the conversation during many social media events, and new technology allows people to detect them. (Wired)