Baker rides the T

After taking heat for avoiding it, gov gets on the Red Line

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER boarded a southbound Red Line train on Monday morning, putting behind him years of refusal to ride the transit system he oversees.

The visit from Park Street to the newly revamped Wollaston Station in Quincy, where he participated in a press conference, was uneventful, but it represented a symbolic break from the Republican governor’s prior reluctance to travel by T.

Baker took control of the MBTA early in his administration, installing a new control board in July 2015, only a few months after severe winter storms ground service to a halt. Since then the Republican governor has struggled to improve reliability for transit riders, and endured criticism not just for its performance, but also for his refusal to step into the shoes of everyday riders.

“Governor, it’s time you overcame your inexplicable fear of the T and get on a train,” Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford thundered in a June press release, a day after a Red Line derailment that triggered months of subpar service on the T’s busiest line.

Democrats have held up signs at Baker’s public events calling on him to ride the T, while the governor has insisted that his job is to find ways to fix the service, not necessarily to use it for his own travel needs.

The governor’s roughly seven-mile journey on Monday defanged the attacks on him just as Beacon Hill is preparing for a big debate over creating new revenue streams for the MBTA and the rest of the state’s transportation systems.

To inject some quick-fix revenue, Baker has proposed using $50 million in surplus money from fiscal 2019 for spending to improve the MBTA, but others are demanding a bigger and more dependable influx of funding. House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Monday indicated the governor’s $50 million idea would be wrapped into the larger debate about transportation revenues that has been slated for consideration this fall.

“It is my plan that before this session ends we come up with some type of plan,” DeLeo told reporters on Monday.

The Baker administration ensured that the governor’s ride could be seen by the Twitter-scrolling public without being too obvious about drawing attention to it.

An administration spokeswoman posted a photo of Baker and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack waiting on the platform for a Braintree-bound train on Monday morning, but the administration was otherwise pretty quiet about the trip – which would hardly warrant mention at all except that the governor made it.

“It was a great ride” Pollack said on her way into a Monday afternoon meeting in the governor’s offices.

A photo taken by another passenger shows the governor standing up, holding onto the handrail running above the seats, apparently engaged in conversation.

Baker himself sounded nonchalant about it, though an aide confirmed it was his first real T travel since becoming governor.

“Today we had an event at Wollaston, which is on the Red Line, and I hopped on the Red Line and rode it out to the event, and it worked fine,” Baker said, declining to address in his answer whether he had caved into critics calling on him to ride the T.

At the event itself, the governor didn’t mention how he arrived there, according to audio provided by the governor’s office, focusing instead on the utility of temporarily shutting down T service to more swiftly make repairs, the improvements made to the Quincy station, and his hope for passage of an $18 billion borrowing bill to finance transportation projects.

“The administration has been focused on accelerating the work made possible by the $8 billion, five-year capital plan, and the governor has been and will be continuing to highlight some of that work,” said Tim Buckley, senior advisor to the governor, when asked about the decision to ride the T on Monday.

Calls for Baker to mix it up with the transit-riding proletariat have nagged him for years.

“It feels like it was a relatively easy thing to resolve,” said a person who was a member of former Gov. Deval Patrick’s press team, calling today’s ride a “check-the-box moment.”

Baker’s prior refusal to ride the T gave his critics the ability to “keep hitting [him] over the head,” according to the Democrat’s former press aide, who asked not to be identified. The former aide noted Patrick rode the T at least once a year during his tenure.

While Bickford said in a statement that he hopes “the Governor doesn’t treat this single ride only as a photo op,” other Democrats who are hoping the governor will implement  broader reforms at the T saw his decision to ride the Red Line as a positive step.

“It’s always great to see that people can evolve,” said Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu. “It’s great to see baby steps.”

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

On Twitter, Rep. Tommy Vitolo, a Brookline Democrat, said he was “really glad” that Baker rode the T, and invited him to ride the Green Line during the morning rush.

Baker in the past has often appeared at events at MBTA stations and work facilities, but as governor he has not taken a ride with other passengers. In March 2016, Baker boarded a Green Line trolley with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and others for a short ceremonial trip from the revamped Government Center station to Park Street. More recently, the governor paid a visit to the platform of the JFK/UMass station on the Red Line and even went down to inspect the damage a derailed train had caused to signal systems just outside the station.