Experts at Tuesday’s MBTA: Just Fix It panel weighed in on potential solutions and addressed Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed legislation. They talked about everything from transparency and accountability to revenue, operating costs, customer service, and employee absenteeism.
Listen to the Discussion
Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack strongly advocated for Governor Baker’s new legislation, which is based on the findings of a panel he appointed to evaluate the MBTA. The legislation would allow the administration to have more fiscal and managerial control over the MBTA through 2018. Secretary Pollack argued that a new control board would increase accountability and is vital to the development of a sustainable customer-oriented public transit system.
The MBTA has a fundamental problem—its expenses grow faster than its revenue, she said, noting that the state already heavily subsidizes the system.
Former Secretary of Transportation James Aloisi disagreed. “The T doesn’t have a spending problem; it has a disinvestment problem,” he said. Aloisi raised concerns that a reduced operating budget could lead to increased fares and cut services.
While Aloisi does believe the MBTA needs to be held accountable for strong performance metrics, he doesn’t think a new a new control board is the answer. He argued it would add another layer of bureaucracy that would actually reduce accountability. Instead, he recommends rethinking the overall state transportation budget and shifting highway funding to public transit.
Kristina Egan, director of Transportation for Massachusetts—an environmental and ridership advocacy group—said that it’s crucial to increase the public’s trust in the MBTA, especially after the chronic service failures this winter. With an expected increase of 400,000 riders over the next five years, now is not the time to reduce MBTA funding, she said.
Greg Sullivan, research director at Pioneer Institute, is in favor of increased transparency and a new control board. He noted that a similar three-year plan successfully revitalized Chelsea, Mass. When the state temporarily took over the city in 1991, Chelsea was more than $9 million in debt. And by 1993, it had a budget surplus.
Eileen McAnneny, president of Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said that “extraordinary measures” are needed in the short-term to fix the MBTA. In particular, she emphasized the importance of prioritizing needs and setting boundaries between the MBTA's operating budget and capital improvement budget.
Former General Manager of the MBTA and partner at Alternate Concepts James O’Leary said that support from Governor Baker and Secretary Pollack is key to the MBTA’s long-term success.
The event was moderated by NECN Business Editor Peter Howe. Hosted by Suffolk University's Center for Real Estate and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, the event was part of the Building Boston 2030 series.