February 11, 2015

It’s T time for the new Governor.

The systemic issues that plague the MBTA are, in part, the result of collective failure without collective punishment.

The list of actors and institutions that have failed the T is quite long: the Legislature, voters, unions, MBTA management and employees, Governors.

We are collectively at fault. But when failure is so widespread that just about everyone ones a small piece of it, punishment is not easily administered.

Take this simple quiz: which suburban legislator will lose her or his job because of public transit’s inadequate funding?


And while Beverly Scott may extol the virtues of hard working T employees, many who ride or used to ride the T have a less than fond memory of the angry, rude, and lazy.

A public system that routinely flouted basic rules of customer service doesn’t exactly make a compelling argument for more public funds.

Scott will likely take the fall for failures beyond any GM’s ability to fix.  As Thomas Farragher writes this morning, it won’t solve a thing.     The failures are not solely hers. If Scott resigns, she’ll be replaced by another GM overseeing the system’s decline, abetted by all those other institutions and figures that will suffer no punishment as a result.

So here we are at another of the T’s many crossroads.

The MBTA proved to be a total loss during a trying time for many. That has focused our attention. It can provide a political opportunity that only a Governor can harness. The future economic vitality of the Commonwealth depends on a functioning public transit system.

By virtue of his place in our constitutional constellation, Governor Baker can command the attention of the political community and call on it to fix the system and put it on a different trajectory.

It will certainly try his political skills. The snow will melt and the T will be back to limping along. Legislators will resist. Other issues will arise and demand our attention.

The Governor will have to put the T on solid footing knowing that neither he nor his legislative partners will suffer politically if they fail to do so. Quite the opposite: inaction on the T is not likely to harm them. Action, spreading the costs among numerous constituencies, is the political risk.

Fixing the MBTA will require the Governor to call us “by the better angels of our nature” at a time when we may prefer not to answer.

Still, the Governor looks at the portrait of his predecessor, and former Secretary of Transportation, John Volpe every day. The Volpe National Transportation Systems Center is right across the river.

Here’s hoping the Governor develops a fondness for T.

MBTA, Beverly Scott, Charlie Baker

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