The Associated Press

Mass. House Approves Bailout For Troubled T

BOSTON — House lawmakers on Wednesday approved a temporary financial fix for the MBTA that would stave off, at least for now, deeper cuts in service on the Boston-area transit system.

The bailout bill, which also offers help to other struggling regional transit agencies, advanced on a 130-25 vote. It now goes to the Senate with a July 1 deadline for passage.

A key provision of the measure would transfer to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority $49 million from a state fund made up of automobile inspection fees paid by motorists and designated for environmentally friendly transportation projects.

The MBTA would also receive a portion of the state’s snow removal budget that went unused during the mild winter.

The board of directors of the nation’s fifth largest and most heavily indebted transit system voted in April to raise fares by an average 23 percent and reduce some service to erase part of a $159 million deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Rep. William Strauss, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said at the outset of debate that the steps previously taken by the MBTA only addressed about two-thirds of the deficit and that the legislation was needed to close the remainder of the gap. The agency is required by law to have a balanced budget.

Without passage of the bailout measure, T officials have warned they would have to make further reductions in service.

“If you are someone who is going to have to cope with a service cut … that’s a tremendous impact on your transportation needs,” said Strauss, a Democrat from Mattapoisett.

Rep. Marc Lombardo, a Republican from Billerica, derided the bill as a one-time “Band-Aid” for the MBTA, accusing the agency of failing to adopt meaningful cost-saving reforms.

“The MBTA will be back next year and for years after that, asking for millions more,” Lombardo said. “How many times will we help the MBTA before they help themselves?”

State officials and legislative leaders have acknowledged the need for a long-term solution for the financial problems facing not only the T but the state’s entire transportation network, brought on in part by debt associated with the now-completed Big Dig highway project. They have pledged to tackle the issue during the next legislative session beginning in January.

The bill approved on Wednesday had also met with some resistance from lawmakers representing districts outside the MBTA’s service area, who balked at asking their constituents to help bail out a system they do not regularly use.

Strauss said $7 million in additional state funding, including $2 million from the Motor Vehicle Inspection Trust Fund, was designated for regional transit systems such as the Springfield-based Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, which is also considering increases in bus fares.

Other provisions of the bill include tougher penalties for fare evaders and a study of whether the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan International Airport, could assume operation of MBTA commuter boats in the future.

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  • Akfaka

    What about a crack down on the union protected imbecile T employees? 

  • Guest

    The T is horribly managed and unreliable. It is obvious that the people in charge don’t know how to manage their money either. Also, it’s ridiculous that it stops running so early. If they start changing the system and make it into a more reliable public transportation system, they won’t be in debt and people will be more willing to use it on a regular basis. Raising the fairs won’t make a difference with a broken system. If anything, it will make people less likely to take the T.

    • jefe68

      Good points except that ridership is up.  The MBTA should never have been saddled with the debt of the Big Dig. That’s one of the reasons it is in such a financial bind.
      The other is clearly mismanagement and dealing with unions is also something that needs to be brought to the table as we, and I mean all of us, try to fix this mess.

      Here’s a thought, MGH employs 22 thousand people and Brigham and Women’s employs another 19 thousand.  The percentage of employees who use the T is quite large. The Metro Boston area is the economic engine for the state. It depends on a decent public transportation system. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of we need to fix this for the good of the entire sate.

  • Steve Garson

    Boston and Eastern Massachusetts depend on the T.  There is no question that some financial support may be needed.  But there needs to be a culture of accountability, akin to that found in private corporations.  I’m not at all suggesting privatization, but a lot can be learned from operating like a corporation and making management accountable to goals an objectives, both financial and operational.

    • jefe68

      Which corporations are you thinking of? Bank of America, JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers, BP?  Private corporations have only one thing to do, make a profit and keep the shareholders (if a public company) happy. 

      I do agree, they need to be held accountable for screwing up and running the MBTA well.

      • Steve Garson

        I specifically said “private corporations” not public corporations.  Private corporations typically operate more responsibly, since they are not influenced by what their stock price is or will be,

        • jefe68

          Yes I know, I did allude to that.
          Thing is I’m not sure private corporations are any better.
          I’ve worked for a few and the BS that was going on them was pretty amazing.  Private does not mean better, it means they can do whatever they want and there is less accountability to the public.
          Which in this case is whom they would be serving.

      • X-Ray

        When corporations get into trouble they don’t expect money to be paid by other corporations to bail them out; the stockholders have the risk of loss. The MA legislature is about to take money from other cities and town’s people and bail out Boston. All I see there in the early morning is empty buses traveling around town, making no money and providing little service at significant expense and insult to the environment.

        • jefe68

          Really? Seems to me a lot of corporations get a lot of help from tax payers in the guise of tax breaks and other perks.
          Recent events in the financial sector seem to fly in the face of your comment.

          Your bus comment is absurd, just because you see some empty buses the system is not working?
          By the way the buses are running on natural gas, not diesel anymore.

          Personally I would rather see more light rail and trolleys instead of buses.

          The system is awful, it’s not run well. I’m for making it better.
          Last time I looked MGH was not looking to move to Springfield, they are here in Boston and they employ 22 thousand people most of whom use public transportation. Public transportation is the engine for the economy of the city. You can dislike this all you want but the bottom line is a huge portion of the states revenue is generated in the city of Boston.

          • X-Ray

            Two many half-truths and misinformation to refute item-by-item. But just a few points -

            Natural gas powered vehicles also burn hydrocarbons and exhaust combustion products into the atmosphere we all breathe. Maybe different components such as particulates are involved but pollution nevertheless.

            Maybe MGH should move a facility to Springfield to better service that area, relieve the congestion around Boston and to relieve the travel necessary to have medical service.

            The observation of empty buses (admittedly not a scientific survey) points to poor system and load management, and poor resource management.

            Corporations operate within the tax structure set up by the legislatures which give tax breaks to twist their operations to mechanisms deemed worthy by their representatives.

            One doesn’t have to go to Springfield to find taxation used to support greater Boston’s infrastructure without receiving any benefit. Just go outside of 128, or from Worcester west to see the bleeding to support Boston. The Big Dig has little benefit for the population there, but the tax contribution is still demanded.

  • Akfaka

    I have said this all this time, The T should get rid of the union protected imbecile employees!!!

  • X-Ray

    Why should the fees from ispections across the Commonwealth be used to bail out Boston’s “rapid” transit? My town doesn’t have any mass transit and yet we have to support Boston’s system and get no benefit from it.  Is that what Commonwealth means, my money supports Boston’s problems and infrastructure?

    • Jessie

      I use the MBTA and I an pretty certain that a portion of my tax dollars funds probjects in your town. That is what it means to be a Commonwealth. If we were to just have towns collect taxes for the things that only their residents needed, it would not only be incredibly inefficient, we would also see even larger gaps in quality if life from town to town than we already have. The MBTA is used by millions of state residents. It is a common good that contributes to overall economic prosperity while reducing pollution. If that isn’t worth state tax dollars, I’m not sure what is.

    • jefe68

      I assume by your comment you don’t live or work in Boston.
      Why should my tax dollars pay for your road upkeep, snow removal and anything else that comes from the state coffers. It kind of works both ways.

      I’m sure the city of Boston would be much better off it could keep the lions share of revenue it generates. As Jessie has pointed out, we live in a Commonwealth.

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