Gov. Charlie Baker’s and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s responses to the pair of MBTA derailments last week suggest both men still lack adequate plans to deal with the system’s biggest challenges.
After the two incidents, referring to signal upgrades and other repairs Baker told a Boston Globe reporter “I wish we could install it all tomorrow. We can’t. But I believe we’re heading in the right direction.”
In essence, Baker has asked everyone who relies on the T to “grin and bear it” while upgrades are made.
He is right some gritting of teeth is necessary – even with all the money in the world, every upgrade and repair needs time to be planned, purchased and installed – and the $8 billion his administration plans to spend over the next five years is a significant chunk of the T’s $10.1 billion repair backlog.
Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t on Baker’s side. Not only does his plan leave key fixes unfunded it permits those it does pay for to unfold over a positively lackadaisical time frame. Baker is right that more money will not fix the T’s problems unless the authority bulks up its ability to plan and deliver capital projects. Having put his finger on the problem, he should now be telling Bay Staters how he and the T plan to overcome that obstacle and accelerate repairs. Rider confidence in the T is so low, it and the region’s economy cannot afford another five years of dysfunction.
Just as importantly, the Baker administration appears to be ignoring the urgent need to grow the system soon. The Seaport is far from filled in and even more transformative investments are planned in Allston and Suffolk Downs, not to mention the growth occurring in Boston’s suburbs. To efficiently move workers in and out of these major destinations and to pull the state economy towards a carbon-free future, aggressive plans are desperately needed.
Walsh, for his part, took the path of outrage the day of the Red Line derailment, tweeting the crash was “unacceptable.”
“We need answers, solutions & more funding, and we need it now,” he wrote.
His support of more transit funding is good, but the city’s inability to ensure replacement bus service could expeditiously move through Boston’s streets showed he, too, isn’t playing his role in getting the T to its next destination. If riders are going to maintain any faith in the transit agency while necessary repairs are made, municipal leaders everywhere need to have thorough and aggressive plans in place to keep riders moving on the unavoidable occasions where things do break down.
Some reactions to the derailments showed progress is being made. The MBTA followed good advice from advocacy group Transit Matters and deployed commuter rail trains to help buses shuttle Red Line riders last week. And House Speaker Bob DeLeo repeated a promise “the House will debate a comprehensive package of revenue enhancements that will allow us to more immediately invest in infrastructure” in a Facebook post Tuesday. Let’s hope that momentum builds.