Getting the MBTA Back on Track

March 2, 2015

By Senator Richard J. Ross

This region has seen a difficult start to 2015. Historic amounts of snow this winter have impacted us all, but for those that use the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) service, it has meant limited service, crippling delays, and routine cancellations, and frankly it is unacceptable.

However, the events that have transpired over the last month were a long time coming and speak to much larger concerns regarding the Commonwealth’s transportation system as a whole. From irresponsible expansion proposals, an unsustainable pension system, and a severe lack of timely maintenance, it is shocking that a snow storm has only just brought to light what the Senate Republican Caucus has been trying to address for a very long time.

The failures of the transit system stem from a history of mismanagement on the part of the MBTA, as well as a lack of sufficient oversight measures from the legislature. According to financial statements taken from the MBTA’s website, by increasing the sales tax in 2009 and then raising the gas tax in 2013, the MBTA’s revenue grew from just over $1.1 billion in 2001 to over $1.9 billion in 2014. Despite an increase in funding and revenue, the Boston Herald reported that for the last five years the MBTA has neglected to file reports outlining the transportation systems’ maintenance needs. In the midst of constant performance failures, costly rail lines to the South Coast and Foxborough continue to be proposed, reflecting poor planning and a clear misallocation of resources.

The unprecedented levels of snow have only exacerbated the growing number of complications that have yet to be addressed with the aging infrastructure the MBTA currently uses. This level of service is unacceptable and it is only going to worsen for the people of the Commonwealth if immediate action is not taken.

For years, Senate Republicans have offered significant reforms to the MBTA to reel back expansion projects and promote more transparency in spending and oversight. From fare evasion studies, expansion limitation, financial and pension fund accountability proposals—the Senate Republicans have been at the forefront of fixing the MBTA, but these innovative proposals were routinely rejected in favor of increased taxes and fares.

In February, Senate Republicans put forward legislation to financially stabilize the MBTA by creating a seven member Finance Control Board that would gain immediate control of the MBTA’s finances. The Finance Control Board would first establish a plan to correct historical inefficiencies, and put the transit system back into full service operation as soon as possible. The legislation would also provide an interest free loan to the MBTA, to be repaid in full, so the newly established board can implement the necessary procedures and structural changes they feel are necessary to correct the direction of the organization.

If key benchmarks have not been met, the MBTA finance control board could ultimately be dissolved in favor of a receiver that would take over the board’s responsibilities. The proposed legislation would be a logical approach to fix a broken system in much need of repair.

This is by no means the only solution, but we cannot continue to throw money at a problem and expect it go away. Over the past decade, the MBTA’s expansion efforts have come at the expense of solving its current issues and the legislature’s answer to the MBTA’s mismanagement cannot be to burden our constituents with more taxes and fare increases. The legislature’s answer should be to tackle the issue directly and provide the public with the transportation system they have paid for and rightly deserve.

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