The Codcast: Wu grades the T

Boston residents are probably more reliant on the MBTA than anyone in the state, yet city government has no formal say in the operation of the T. It’s been an easy way for city officials to pass the buck about problems with the T – of which there have been more than a fair share in recent years.

But city officials are finally stepping up and speaking out on transit issues. One of the strongest voices has belonged to City Councilor Michelle Wu, who joined Bruce Mohl and me for this week’s Codcast.

Wu has called for the city to have a greater voice in T matters considering the $85 million it ponies up in local assessment payments to support the authority’s operating budget. “We absolutely should have more of a say,” she said.  She backs “regional rail” – the idea of increasing the frequency of commuter rail line service so that it’s less oriented toward 9-5 weekday commuters. And she has taken some bold stands in an effort to hold back the glut of cars that has accompanied the city’s booming economy and population growth.

“This has become really the central issue that I’ve been advocating on,” the third-term councilor said of her focus on transportation.

Asked to grade the T, she gives it a “B-minus, C-plus.” Wu says T service is “unpredictable” and often overcrowded. “Every time I tweet about the T,” she said, “immediately there’s a whole crowd of folks out there saying, ‘We want this to be better. We’re very invested in public transit, but the service isn’t where it needs to be.’”

While MBTA riders have faced a steady stream of fare increases in recent years, Wu has a very different idea for the T fare structure. “In my dream world, I think the absolute ideal would be if we found a way to make public transportation free for residents,” she said.

She acknowledges that day is not coming anytime soon. Of course, the T is not free to operate, and Wu favors exploring a range of options to boost revenue into the system, including being open to the idea of a local-option tax, something used to fund many other transit systems nationally.

“We need a vision that goes beyond maintenance and getting to a state of good repair,” she said when asked whether the goal should be getting the current system into good shape or expanding it. “Certainly our trains have to be functional, certainly elevators need to be maintained, and all of those little things that require day to day management and resources just to maintain that baseline must happen,” she said. “But people have to be able to trust that the transit system is going to work for them to meet their needs and see that we’re eventually going to support the growth of this region. There’s a balance that I don’t think we’re hitting right now.”

In terms of things the city can do to enhance MBTA service, Wu is huge booster of setting aside dedicated lanes for buses. A recent two-day tryout of bus lanes on the congested Washington Street corridor from Roslindale Square to Forest Hills appeared to be a huge success, and a full pilot is planned for this spring.

That particular effort is something Wu has a personal interest in: As a Roslindale resident she faces the slow slog of the bus trip to Forest Hills or a commuter rail ride from Roslindale that costs more than twice the fare of a standard subway ride. Her usual solution is getting a ride, with her two young sons, from her husband to Forest Hills, where she braves the morning rush hour ride on the Orange Line with a double-stroller. “I know every elevator downtown,” she says of the need to plan carefully how she’ll exit with her sons to street level from the subway.

She has been critical of the commuter rail fare structure for riders who pick up trains within the city. The weekday round-trip fare from Roslindale Village to South Station is $12.50.  Wu said that has further exacerbated inequality, with only those of means able to make regular use of such service, while low-income residents must rely on slow and overcrowded bus service.

Wu hasn’t shied away from some tough stands in her effort to get Bostonians to rethink transportation in the 21st century and decrease the incentives to rely on cars. Most notably has been her call for the city to consider charging for resident parking permits. Some households have half a dozen or more vehicles registered at an address and signed up for the city’s free resident parking permits.

In the North End, she says, there are three times as many permits issued as there are resident spaces. “It’s really no more than a permit to hunt for a spot,” said Wu.

She’d like to see revenue from parking permit fees go to support crosswalk upgrades and bicycling infrastructure.

Wu said Mayor Marty Walsh seems to appreciate how vital transit issues are the city’s economy. She said her frequent conversations with Walsh about transportation issues have elicited an agreement between the two officials to take a bike ride together to highlight a transportation option that has been growing in popularity in Boston.

“It hasn’t happened yet,” she said. “Between my pregnancies and babies and everything else it’s been hard to schedule.”

One transportation option that Wu is not too excited about is the proposal floated by developer Millennium Partners to run a gondola along Summer Street in the increasingly congested Seaport.

“I’m lucky we’re on radio so people didn’t see my eye roll,” she said when the subject was raised. “To me this feels like something people are grasping at straws over,” Wu said. She said a gondola, even if initially privately funded, would ultimately require public investment. What’s more, she said, “It’s essentially saying, we have a huge problem with traffic and congestion. Let’s figure out a way to fly some people over it and ignore it.”

Wu said dedicated bus lanes on Summer Street, cycling infrastructure, and ferry service in Boston Harbor all seem like better ways to go at the problem. “I have a whole list of things I would rather get done fire before we go to gondolas,” she said.

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the chamber’s nondisclosure agreements over the last decade are “part of doing business.” A day later he sheds more light on the number of agreements. (State House News)

Two cheers: A Herald editorial applauds the House for its strong moves to deal with sexual harassment — and it cheers Rep. Diana DiZoglio and Rep. Angelo Scaccia for calling out DeLeo for his penchant for silencing debate.

Attorney General Maura Healey said she doesn’t have any details on the House’s non-disclosure agreement situation. (MassLive)

Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration and finance secretary, Michael Heffernan, hired a half dozen Wellesley friends and neighbors for top jobs in his previous stint as state revenue commissioner. (Boston Globe)

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr has filed legislation that would make information about low-level sex offenders available to the public. (Eagle-Tribune)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston plans to dedicate a new park in memory of Steven Odom, the 13-year-old Dorchester boy murdered in 2007 in a case of mistaken identity. (Boston Globe) Margery Eagan laments the fact that killings like Odom’s and that of other minority urban-dwellers do not spur the country to action on the plague of guns in the way killings in more white and affluent communities like Parkland, Florida, do. (Boston Globe)

Berkshire Lightscapes is joining forces with the Mass Development agency to raise money to colorfully light up various buildings in Pittsfield. (Berkshire Eagle)

Framingham officials have yet to launch a website to allow residents to look up city payroll, spending, and other datasets that was first promised more than two years ago in the name of transparency. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

US Rep. Seth Moulton said he is willing to hire Andrew McCabe so the fired deputy FBI director would qualify for a pension. (Associated Press)  A Lowell Sun editorial said Moulton must have had too much to drink on St. Patrick’s Day. “Moulton, a so-called maverick Democrat, thinks it’s trendy to protect a traitor — and that’s what McCabe is,” the editorial said..

President Trump, bucking the advice of aides, has begun to directly assail Special Counsel Robert Mueller by name, drawing rebukes even from some Republicans. (New York Times)

Trump will in New Hampshire today where he’ll deliver a speech on the opioid crisis. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

A Globe editorial slams former Berkshire district attorney David Capeless for exiting before his term expired as part of a plan to orchestrate the appointment of his top deputy so that the aide could run for the seat this fall as the incumbent DA. CommonWealth first flagged this short-circuiting of the democratic process earlier this month.

Facebook faces blowback in the United States and the UK for failing to alert its millions of users that the presidential campaign of Donald Trump harvested their personal information. Attorney General Maura Healey says she plans to investigate. (New York Times)

The Herald’s Kimberly Atkins says Elizabeth Warren and other would-be Democratic candidates for president in 2020 are looking left as they craft their messages.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A study of 20 million children conducted by researchers from Harvard, Stanford, and the Census Bureau finds sons in rich black families are more likely to end up poor when they grow older while white boys maintain their wealth. (New York Times)

A new program from the state agency MassHousing will cover up to 3 percent of the down payment on a home for qualifying first-time homebuyers. (Boston Globe)

Berkshire Theatre Group hired Nicholas Paleologos as its new executive director. Paleologos is a former Massachusetts state rep and most recently the director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. (Berkshire Eagle)

EDUCATION

Chicopee police arrested a juvenile who threatened to shoot students and teachers at Dupont Middle School. (MassLive)

Dennis-Yarmouth school officials, where more than 40 percent of the student population qualifies as economically disadvantaged, is eliminating its entire social worker staff and drastically reducing its special education budget to close a growing deficit. (Cape Cod Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Massachusetts residents are more likely to die from suicide than homicide and car accidents combined, with the number of suicide deaths in the state rising 63 percent over the last 18 years. (Patriot Ledger)

Massachusetts-based Whittier Rehabilitation Center is planning to open a facility in China. (Eagle-Tribune)

TRANSPORTATION

House Speaker Robert DeLeo was mostly mum on his transportation priorities in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Karl Meyer says the pumped storage system at Northfield Mountain in western Massachusetts is a threat to the Connecticut River. (CommonWealth)

A study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth says the vast majority of jobs in the wind industry involving the proposed turbine farms off Martha’s Vineyard will be in planning and construction with fewer than 10 percent of the jobs continuing after that phase. (Standard-Times) New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell says his city is well-positioned to take advantage of the economic development benefits associated with offshore wind. (Governing)

Nearly 5,000 trout were lost at a state hatchery on Cape Cod during last week’s power outage caused by the nor’easter. (MetroWest Daily News)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Whitman voters, who approved the statewide referendum legalizing marijuana, passed a comprehensive ban in a special election over the weekend barring the sale, cultivation, and manufacturing of recreational pot in the town. Meanwhile, Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter, facing budget deficits, is looking to benefit from retail sales of marijuana to raise revenue for the cash-strapped city. (The Enterprise)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Bristol District Attorney released a 21-page report saying a Fall River police officer was justified in the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old New Bedford man last November during a drag race near the Fall River Industrial Park. (Herald News) Several years ago, CommonWealth took an in-depth look at the process of district attorneys clearing police officers in fatal shootings that resulted in no charges in virtually every officer-involved shooting.

MEDIA

Digital First Media takes over the Boston Herald today and the company plans to have the paper printed at a GateHouse Media plant in Providence rather than by the Boston Globe. No word on the fate of key Herald employees such as editor Joe Sciacca or columnist Howie Carr. (MassLive)

Who knew? Tom Brady, on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,  reveals he has “a thing” about strawberries. (NPR)