WBUR Poll: Just 29% Approve Of The Way Baker Has Handled The MBTA

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In this 2015 file photo, people wait to board a Red Line train at Porter Square MBTA station. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
In this 2015 file photo, people wait to board a Red Line train at Porter Square MBTA station. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Boston-area voters are really frustrated with transportation -- and they don't like how the MBTA has been handled by state leaders, according to a new WBUR poll (topline resultscrosstabs).

Compared with five years ago, just 4% of survey respondents say it's gotten easier to get around the region. And they see little improvement with the MBTA. About 3 out of 4 voters say the condition of the T has stayed the same or gotten worse since the historic snowstorms of 2015 shut down the entire system.

"Being on the Red Line for the past seven years or so, I just can't think of a time when the T was running smoothly for a week straight," Quincy resident Jane Lee said this week as she waited for a Red Line train at Park Street station. "It's actually gotten worse I think."

Lee is hardly alone in that feeling, especially after two trains recently derailed. Ride the T and you'll find plenty of frustration. About 1-in-4 poll respondents identify either public transportation or traffic as the most pressing issue for the region.

An MBTA Red Line train derailed just outside of JFK/UMass Station earlier this month. (Courtesy Boston Fire Department)
An MBTA Red Line train derailed just outside of JFK/UMass Station earlier this month. (Courtesy Boston Fire Department)

"There's some disconnect there when you look at the amount of attention — and the amount of political attention — that's been focused on transportation and just the lack of a difference in people's lives that people are feeling," said MassINC Polling Group President Steve Koczela, who conducted the live telephone survey of 553 registered voters in communities inside Route 128 or that straddle 128.

Voters also feel Gov. Charlie Baker hasn't done enough to fix the T — something voters back in 2015 said should be a "major priority" for his administration.

Even though 69% of voters have a favorable opinion overall of the popular governor, just 29% approve of how he's handled the MBTA — and 52% disapprove — according to the new WBUR poll.

"The leadership should come from the top and he technically governs the whole state," said poll respondent Will Neely, who lives in Salem. "I just think it's going to take vision and planning, but it's going to take a lot of money to make it better."

Some of that money could come in the form of taxes or fees. But despite the frustration with transportation, most voters don't support revenue options like raising the gas tax, adding more tolls on highways or instituting fees on cars that enter Boston during rush hour.

Voters do clearly support one measure — 69% to 28%: a tax on income over $1 million. Previous polls have also shown strong support for the so-called "millionaire's tax." (The state's Supreme Judicial Court struck down an effort to put the measure on the ballot back in 2018. Lawmakers are currently considering the measure again.)

"I believe that people should be taxed more if they have more income, not less, and it makes sense to me that a portion of that would go towards public transportation," said poll respondent Aren Stone of Cambridge.

MBTA Green Line train at Boylston station (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
MBTA Green Line train at Boylston station (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

In just a few days, commuters will indeed contribute more toward public transportation: MBTA fares will go up by an average of about 6% on July 1.

But, in the WBUR poll, 70% of Boston-area voters said the new fares should be postponed until the Red Line is back to full service after its recent derailment.

Voters just don't believe the fare hikes will lead to better service, according to Koczela.

"People think it's much more likely that traffic will get worse if their fares are increased than they think the T service will get better," Koczela said.

Back at Park Street station, commuter Deanne Stroud is not happy about the fare hikes at all.

"That's completely unfair to all of us,"  Stroud said as she waited on the platform for the next leg of her commute to Randolph. "To have to take forever to get to where we need to get to — the inconvenience of that — and then it's still going to go up on the rate? If you're going to do that provide us with good services."

Transit officials say investments have been made in the T in the last few years, and without that the current situation could be much worse.

About a third of those surveyed say the governor bears the ultimate responsibility for the region's transportation issues. A slightly higher number — 38% — say it's the state Legislature that's most responsible.

This week, the Baker administration put out a plan to speed up fixes to the T's aging infrastructure and tackle the systems $8 billion Capital Investment Program. The plan includes increasing inspections, and scheduling more weekend and evening closures to speed up infrastructure improvements. The plan also calls for $50 million to create a new MBTA team to make sure goals are reached on time.

It remains to be seen whether it will be enough to restore confidence in a system that 82% of voters in the WBUR poll say is in crisis or has major problems.

The survey was conducted Friday through Monday, and has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

This article was originally published on June 27, 2019.

This segment aired on June 27, 2019.


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Zeninjor Enwemeka Senior Business Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a senior business reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.



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