On Thursday, February 12th, Transportation for Massachusetts, Conservation Law Foundation and MASSPIRG released a report evaluating the state of our transportation system. The report includes some good news, and some bad news. The good news is that significant transportation improvements have been made across the state since the Transportation Finance Act was passed in 2013. New Red and Orange line cars have been ordered, and modest capital and operational improvements have been made to the rail and bus system throughout the state. For instance, the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority restored night and Sunday service, increased service to UMass Dartmouth, provided demand response service to Freetown, and increased frequency on existing routes.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), the MBTA and the Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) also continue to improve and reform their operations. The MBTA collected $31 million more in fares than originally projected for FY 2014, and is providing about 1.3 million trips a day (compared to 1.1 million trips in 2005). The RTAs are now funded by the Commonwealth before their bills are due, allowing them to stop operating on costly credit. MassDOT project selection criteria will soon include metrics for improving equity, transparency and consistency with the state’s environmental and mode shift goals.
Unfortunately, you already know the bad news. The revenue provided in the 2013 funding bill is still not sufficient to meet the Commonwealth’s ongoing and future transportation needs or to support the state’s economy. Historic snowfall, freezing temperatures, and 40 year old subway cars don’t mix. Not only the cars, but the entire network is in desperate need of an upgrade. If we want reliable, safe and modern rails and roads, we need to invest in repairs.
What does that mean? When it passed, the 2013 Act fell short by about $600 million a year. A ‘tech tax’ intended to increase funding by approximately $160 million a year, was then repealed. Subsequently, the gas tax index was repealed. Now we’re over $800 million short each year. We have some big repairs that we’ve been duct taping for a long time. Upgrading the MBTA’s power grid alone, a necessity if we want to ride the subway in the winter, has a $300 million price tag.
So what do we do?
1) The problem: Our leaders need to acknowledge we have a big problem that needs to be solved. For years we’ve known the real cost of repairing and operating our transportation system, and we have been pushing for a realistic plan. Study after study has documented that we need hundreds of millions more per year to just keep our current system in good repair. To expand it and grow the economy would require even more funds.
2) The plan: We need a plan to bring our transportation system to a state of good repair. Governor Baker’s budget for FY 16 is due on March 4th. New revenues are needed, and only the legislature and the governor can provide them. Fixing our transportation system is going to cost money, and while there are some additional savings the MBTA and MassDOT can and should achieve, we can’t save our way out of this problem. That may mean increasing electronic tolling, raising the gas tax, or some other mechanism, but the sooner the Governor and our Legislature adopt a plan to raise revenues, the better.
3) The Public: Transportation for Massachusetts (our coalition), Conservation Law Foundation, and MASSPIRG keep publishing reports like Keeping on Track. While not the most riveting reading to some, it ensures that someone outside of the government is adding up the numbers and holding MassDOT, the MBTA, the legislature and the Governor accountable. Everyone – voters, taxpayers, commuters, every citizen of the Commonwealth – needs to make their voice heard and push our leaders to recognize the Problem and enact the Plan, now.
We know the problem, we have ideas for a plan. The public wants action. Now we need the legislature and the Governor to deliver.