Thank you for your excellent piece “The truth behind the MBTA fare hike." I had read MBTA general manager Dan Grabauskas’s explanatory booklet, and I was struggling with what to think about the whole matter. What I didn’t get until reading your acute and well-researched piece was the extent to which the T’s “fixed revenue” arrangement is nothing but a simple abrogation of legislative and executive responsibilities. What reason could there be to assume that the relative importance of public transportation will remain perfectly static from year to year? Can’t gas prices, traffic problems, or pollution levels shoot up? And even if the T’s priority level was to remain absolutely fixed, can’t changes in one particular tax flow throw everything out of whack anyway? Your analysis brings all these matters to light.
Also, until reading your piece, I was completely ignorant of the cute ways the new fare proposal interacts with ongoing union negotiations. Your identification of the most important reasons for Grabauskas’s pleas for attendance at the hearings and his public admission that “It’s just a proposal” (which I also found odd) was an important contribution and should prove helpful to many consumers and taxpayers. The whole article is an example of what excellence in public-policy journalism should and can be.
David Bernstein’s excellent story is missing an important component. The current MBTA Fare Increase Season (I liken it to a dreaded recurring holiday) would be much more lively if media and responsible transit interest groups focused on the core problem: the MBTA itself.
Total debt isn’t just the $70-odd million (and rising) that’s reported. It includes an enormous debt service to bondholders (owed more than $2 billion at last tally, if memory serves), which is a money drain that sucks the life out of the T’s annual budget. This, thanks to wild expansion and an agency allowed to run fast and loose with very little oversight and practically no control. Greenbush, anyone? Silver Line?
During the upcoming fare increase “workshops” (a folksy term undoubtedly crafted by the T’s PR staff), the public will, once again, rehash the same sad list of complaints, and the MBTA will, predictably, respond with disarming agreement, a patentable vacant look, or “concessions.”
MBTA planning ought to be done with cooperation and coordination at the highest levels, so that waste, redundancy, and expensive “mistakes” (as they are conveniently called) are avoided. The current caretaker governor’s job, I thought, was to make good stuff like this happen. Instead, as the governor clearly demonstrated the last time the MBTA came to the public-money trough, a hands-off approach is the preferable one, leaving the MBTA to founder in its own irresponsible swill. The governor has to take responsibility for his time in office. His record, summed up by the MBTA motto “Expect delays,” is something that he might not want to carry as he goes national. Someone with a brain might ask, “What did he do?” The answer is, “Not much. May I call you a cab?”
I have come up with a much shorter version of Gerard Peary’s review of Art School Confidential (“Art of Darkness"): I thought I was going to like Art School Confidential because the director, Terry Zwigoff, is alternative like me, but it turns out that he’s not! He’s a meanie who hates artists! And there’s the gross girl in it who might as well be starring in a Hollywood movie like Top Gun or something! Sometimes people can be so stupid!