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Editorial: MBTA Cuts Bad for Mother Nature, Poor & the 413…

A ticket to bad policy for the whole commonwealth. (created via wikipedia images)

On Monday afternoon the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority proposed ending weekend commuter rail service and certain services for disabled riders. Ostensibly, the “saved” money would be put toward maintenance, which the system desperately needs. However, such a dramatic step would cripple attempts to build out mass transit in the commonwealth, inflate weekend traffic (and greenhouse gas emissions) and harm the least of our society.

It would be easy for the 413 to shrug with indifference or even embrace this action, but make no mistake this move poses a material threat to Western Massachusetts. How can this region expect to glean the necessary support for our much-needed projects if this moves forward? Rather, Western Mass legislators and residents should oppose this move with as much force as if the cuts were happening here.

The immediate firestorm after the news does not bode well for the proposal. The state Democratic Party and gubernatorial candidates lambasted the cuts and Gov. Charlie Baker said it was merely an option. The governor’s hedging is encouraging if odd as a trial balloon of less severe cuts—likely released by his administration—wafted onto The Globe Sunday.

Nevertheless, we urge the MBTA Control Board—or the legislature if necessary—to halt this plan.

Making progress…but compared to what? (via mass.gov)

We understand there is a budget problem at the MBTA. But overall, Baker’s efforts to restore the agency seem unimpressive. His Control Board has pared some of the MBTA’s deficit, but Commonwealth Magazine exposed touted reductions in absenteeism as misleading. In addition, much-ballyhooed privatization could have happened without suspending the Pacheco Law State Auditor Suzanne Bump, has argued (her office administers exceptions to the law).

Perhaps the MBTA rescue was cursed from the beginning.

When our city faced a fiscal conundrum 13 years ago, the state imposed a Control Board. Springfield and the MBTA are not completely comparable. A system wide failure prompted Baker’s MBTA takeover. Springfield teetered on the edge of insolvency. But then-Governor Mitt Romney implemented a rescue plan—after the legislature cast off the worst of his right-wing proposals—which Deval Patrick continued.

Springfield Finance Control Board in 2008 (via Urban Compass)

The key was the  loan. It fileld  deficits over time and allowed for immediate investments.

It was painful, yes. Unions have many justified complaints about the board. Springfield has several hundred fewer employees than it really needs to function at 100%. But today its fiscal shape is on par with the commonwealth’s other troubled Gateway Cities.

Why would this Pioneer Valley-centric blog so vigorously oppose a matter 90 miles away? First, we are gravely concerned about the environmental impact, particularly in climate terms, as weekend riders resort to automobiles. On Red Sox game days, car trips will spike and, combined with hot weather, could contribute to poorer air quality.

It has taken decades to rebuild rail service in the commonwealth and escape post-WWII policy of less and less rail service but more and more (congested) roads. Going backward now, however temporarily, is a blow to this project—and bringing it to the 413.

Yawkey Station near Fenway Park. Imagine trying to get to the game–or to get to work nearby–with the commuter rail out of commission. (via wikipedia)

Second the impact of these weekend cuts—and concurrent cuts for the disabled—fall on the less fortunate. Yet, this is not merely unjust, it is counterproductive. If Massachusetts selects policies that make it harder for those without a car to get to work, the state is making it more likely the same people shall need taxpayer-financed state services. Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, if you will.

Finally, realization of these service cuts would cast a pall over the 413’s transportation aspirations. The region has a long wish list of expanded rail service and countless road projects. Why would the state’s more populous regions endorse such work if their service deteriorates?

But more importantly, if MBTA commuter rail, which serves a dense, geographically broad area, is on the chopping block, what chance does Western Mass really have when times are tight?

He’s a role model? [Shiver] (via wikipedia)

Had the governor sought a loan like Springfield’s to help the MBTA, his Control Board might avoid the annual scramble to balance the agency’s impossible books. Now MBTA leadership is reduced to irresponsible cuts to weekend service. Yes, it is expensive to run and maintenance is needed, but rather than boost ridership, transportation leaders suggest…eliminating it?

No, the MBTA must find another way.

This blog knows it has a reputation for pillorying His Excellency. But if Baker is inviting nostalgia for Romney—whom we have deemed electorally needy at best and odious at worst—something is truly amiss.

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