Kicking the tires on transpo politics

Capuano says $50M “won’t make a dent” in the T’s needs

IN A WIDE-RANGING discussion about the Bay State’s transportation problems, former congressman Mike Capuano and Kendall Square Association CEO C.A. Webb made their case for new revenue and bold new investments in transit, while Steve Baddour, a lobbyist who previously served as Senate chair of the Transportation Committee, highlighted the plight of car commuters.

In the most recent episode of the Codcast, those three, who have played a vocal role in transportation policy over the years, batted around some other proposed solutions to get people where they are going faster.

Baddour, a Methuen Democrat and lobbyist, said nothing short of a complete reimagining of the commuter rail would get him out of his car for commutes into Boston, but he sees plenty of opportunity in the meantime to speed up travel for those who drive.

“We need a traffic czar here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, someone whose pure focus is through-put, getting people from A to B as quickly as possible,” Baddour said. Much of that person’s focus could be on driver education, as well as the installation of systems to help people merge onto highways, he said.

Automobile traffic doesn’t just slow down other drivers. It also slows down buses, and jams up streets used by bicyclists and pedestrians.

Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, said he wants to see more enforcement of drivers who illegally block intersections, and he wants a whole new oversight regime for bicyclists because of the small percentage who run red lights and commit other infractions.

“In greater Boston, I would license bicycle riders,” said Capuano, who acknowledged the idea is controversial.

Webb favors congestion pricing to reduce the amount of car traffic and she wrote a letter urging lawmakers to bring in more revenue for the T so that it can more quickly complete needed repairs and upgrades. Webb also countered Capuano’s call for bicycle licenses, saying that drivers should thank the cyclists on the street because by choosing not to drive, they are reducing their impact on gridlock.

All three had positive and negative things to say about Gov. Charlie Baker’s handling of the situation. Capuano and Webb praised the governor’s attention to the MBTA and his plan to pour $50 million in surplus revenues into the transit agency, but they said that doesn’t go far enough. Baddour praised Baker’s “laser-like focus” on problems at the T, but said that has come at the detriment of the state’s network of traffic-clogged roads and highways.

“Fifty million dollars, it’s a nice gesture. Thank you. It’s totally insufficient. It will not make a dent of difference to the average commuter,” Capuano said. “We need bold action, bold proposals.” “I honestly believe with all my heart that the average voter will support new revenues that are directed towards transportation.”

Capuano echoed the calls for bold plans to reshape transportation in Massachusetts on a scale that hasn’t been seen in decades or longer.

“Who’s going to make the proposal to build the original Green Line today? And the answer is nobody,” said Capuano, who repeatedly brought up the idea of high-speed rail to Springfield as an idea.

Baddour dismissed as little more than political “gimmicks” the calls from some for the governor to actually ride the MBTA himself, but Webb said there would be real utility for the state’s top executive to ride the system he oversees.

“As someone who has worked in technology and built products for people, the first thing you do is stand in your users’ shoes. If there is anything we’ve learned in the last election, it’s that people want to be represented by people who know their pain,” Webb said.

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.

Capuano fell somewhere in between the two, saying that ordinarily he would agree with Webb, but the demands for Baker to ride the T have “become a political cudgel and it’s sort of lost its usefulness.”

It is still an open question whether frustration over transportation will mobilize people into the sort of political movement that could usher in new leadership. In a recent MassINC Polling Group survey for WBUR, Boston area residents gave Baker low marks for his handling of the T and transportation but they still overwhelmingly support the governor. This morning, local politicians led by Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu are planning to talk to voters at transit stops with a message that the roughly 6 percent fare hikes that kick in today are unfair. Capuano said transportation is a “building” political issue, and Baddour said the current frustration could create an opening for lawmakers and the governor to agree on a solution.