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After Meeting MBTA Riders, Baker Urges Lawmakers To Act On His Proposed Reforms

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Keeping up pressure on senators resistant to his MBTA reforms, Gov. Charlie Baker met with three transit riders Monday morning and used their experiences to pepper his calls for action.

"Winter is not exactly that far away and all of these people said that they dread next winter because they worry they're going to be dealing with the same issues with respect to the unpredictability, the lack of communication and the impact it has on their lives," Baker told reporters after the meeting.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who also attended the meeting, said an employee of a person she met Monday switched from riding the MBTA to driving and renting a parking space in the city.

"That is definitely the wrong direction," said Polito, who said more riders are needed to bolster the system's revenues. She said, "This public system is not reliable."

Baker touted the meeting and a media availability after it on his public schedule Monday, but the riders did not join Baker and Polito when they met with reporters and they were not available after the meeting.

The governor's bid to tout the need for major changes at the T will get a lift at 1:30 p.m. from Senate Republicans who plan to hold a press conference on the second floor of the State House to discuss their approach to MBTA reform, which is in line with the governor's plan.

The Senate begins its debate Tuesday on a budget bill that the House used to include aspects of Baker's reform package, freeing the transit system from a vetting process required in advance of privatizing state services and expanding the membership of the state transportation board that oversees the T while making the secretary of transportation chairperson.

Baker has proposed additional reforms that would place governance of the T under a fiscal and management control board that would be given the authority to raise fares above a statutory limit and reject an arbitrated union contract.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Transportation Chairman Sen. Tom McGee have both dismissed the idea of suspending the privatization requirements and installing a control board.

"We as a Senate have made a decision to move away from a control board. I think, and I'll speak for myself, a control board puts in another layer of bureaucracy when we're trying to bring the agency together," McGee said last week.

"There are a lot of ongoing conversations with the Senate," said Baker, who said he is open to other comprehensive reform proposals. He said, "I don't like to be one of these people who draws the big bright line in the sand and says, 'You know if you don't do this, I jump out a window.' "

Baker said the three riders he met with around 9:30 a.m. had contacted his constituent services office during the winter and represent riders of commuter rail and rapid transit. He said did not know any of them previously. The governor related a story that would be familiar to Orange Line riders north of the city, describing how a man who takes the train from Wellington found his 25-minute commute balloon to 2.5 hours during the winter.

The station platforms were so crowded that the man would take a train outbound to a less crowded station, and then ride a train inbound to work, Baker said. Baker met with the three in the historically restored Corner Office.

As lawmakers consider Baker's reform ideas during budget deliberations, the Transportation Committee is holding hearings on his standalone legislation (H 3347) to reform the T. Baker said he wants legislative action before next fall.

"The snow's melted. The weather's nice. We just had a beautiful weekend. This is exactly when a lot of the heavy lifting associated with getting ready for next winter should be starting. We're doing what we can do within the constraints that we have," said Baker, who said he wants the Legislature to move quickly to give his administration additional "tools."

In the seventh year of his eight years as governor, Deval Patrick sparred aggressively with lawmakers over Patrick's push to raise $2 billion in new taxes to pay for transportation and education. The result was a 3-cent increase in the gas tax and higher tobacco taxes that the Democrat-controlled Legislature passed over the veto of Patrick, who said it was insufficient.

Senate Republicans have filed budget amendments with the goal of inserting Baker's reforms into the annual spending bill. Sen. Michael Moore, a Millbury Democrat, has signed onto a Republican-backed budget amendment to establish an MBTA control board.

"There are plenty of people in the Senate who are interested in having a robust discussion about this, and I believe there will be a conversation about a number of these issues during the budget debate, but I would hope that wouldn't be the end of it," Baker said. He said, "We need to make sure that doesn't get lost just because the weather got nice."

Additional details about the three commuters who met with Baker were not immediately forthcoming from the governor's office.

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