Slow-motion train wreck
There has always been a Through the Looking Glass unreality to how things work (or don’t) on the MBTA. So think of oversight of the moribund transit agency as something akin to the Pottery Barn rule — stretched out strangely by a funhouse mirror into a slow-motion spectacle playing out over decades.
The rule, which entered the popular lexicon when the US was considering invading Iraq, stipulates that if you break something, you must buy it and own it. (Never mind that the upscale furnishings store doesn’t actually have such a policy.)
For the T, however, applying the commonsense dictum is hardly a simple proposition. Instead of the pottery getting shattered in a single slip from the hands of a butter-fingered customer, it’s been chipped at relentlessly for eons. So just who owns the broken down system, saddled with billions of dollars in debt and so much deferred maintenance the agency seems to have given up on even keeping track of it? It’s a joint ownership arrangement among a succession of governors and legislative leaders, none of whom has wanted to be the bearer of bad news telling the public that they are the ultimate owners of the tumbledown system and need to pony up if the trains — and the regional economy — are to remain on track.
That is the backdrop to the news that the T’s current general manager, Beverly Scott, after a theatrical press conference on Tuesday where she said “God Jr.” wouldn’t be able to make the aging system work in current conditions, abruptly announced her resignation on Wednesday, just hours after the state transportation board that oversees the T offered her a unanimous vote of confidence.
Scott’s announcement came on the same day Globe columnist Tom Farragher made clear that sacking her would do nothing to solve the T’s problems. If there’s one currently state official who owns the biggest share of the broken transit pottery, argued Farragher, it’s House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who has been in power for six years while the system has continued to slide down. In his address yesterday to House members outlining an agenda for the coming session, DeLeo acknowledged the T’s woes and vowed to help address the problems, but hardly sounded a note of contrition about bearing any responsibility for those problems.
The Legislature surely does bear responsibility for the dilapidated state of the system. But with Scott on her way out, it is now unambiguously Charlie’s M(B)TA, as Baker becomes the clear lead owner of this money pit of a property. If the T were a house, it would be 50 feet underwater.
Joe Battenfeld doesn’t have a master plan for what Baker should do. But he suggests that perhaps the governor — who oddly found himself fielding a constituent phone call yesterday from a confused and weary T rider — bundle up against the cold and join those who must rely on an entirely unreliable system and ride the T to and from work for a month. DeLeo should give it a try, too.
It’s not just a matter of misery loving company (though there is that, too). It might turn the abstract talk of deferred maintenance and debt overload into an on-the-ground appreciation for the everyday (ugly) reality facing the system’s users, a wind-whipped realization that gives the leaders the frostbitten backbone to stop kicking the transit can and actually do something about it all.
In an opinion piece for WBUR, Simon Waxman, the managing editor of the Boston Review, says Scott’s departure reflects the poor management style of Baker.
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