Entries by Scott Haller

Bay State Specialists and Dentists Get Mixed Reviews on Price Transparency

Pioneer surveyed 96 specialists from across Massachusetts, split almost evenly among dentists, dermatologists, ophthalmologists and gastroenterologists.  With the exception of dentists and some ophthalmologists, many medical specialists make it very difficult for Massachusetts consumers to reap the benefits of a state law that requires medical price transparency. This survey highlighted some shortcomings in the current law and the need for additional guidance and coordination from government agencies and professional associations. Download Report:

The Pacheco Law wastes enough money to buy a brand new fleet of commuter rail locomotives

Pioneer released a report this morning demonstrating that the Pacheco Law (MGL Chapter 7, Sections 52-54) has cost the MBTA $450 million since 1997. That’s a big number, and big numbers can be pretty abstract. So let’s flesh it out to gain perspective on what the Pacheco Law’s restrictions really mean to MBTA riders. Last winter, more than 1.6 million commuter trips were either cancelled or delayed, stranding and frustrating MBTA commuters. The following chart shows the two month collapse of commuter rail service between January 23rd and March 20th. Would repealing the law’s hold on the MBTA do anything to address that? Well, Keolis largely attributed its poor performance to an aging fleet of locomotives, many of which are […]


Economies of scale are when a large operation can provide advantages by spreading fixed and overhead costs over a greater number of units sold, thereby reducing the per unit price. A simple concept, and one that proponents of national K-12 testing consortia made repeatedly. One of Pioneer’s favorite expressions of this economies of scale euphoria that broke out in Washington, DC, occurred in the offices of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in 2012 in response to a serious cost estimate Pioneer did on the Common Core (which was the first such cost estimate in the country).  In that paper, the term “economies of scale” is found 13 times.  Here is a quick sampling: The Common Core also offers the possibility […]

MBTA Experiencing Severe Delays in Transparency

This winter the MBTA proved that it is capable of publishing complete and exhaustive performance and operation data, so why has it stopped? We still don’t know much about the extent of this winter’s detrimental effects to our bus and subway systems. In January, the MBTA dropped its monthly performance ScoreCards which covered all modes of transportation, and included data on ridership levels, on-time performance, maintenance needs, equipment failure rates, schedule performance, and even the severity of commuter rail delays. (Currently the ScoreCard archive can only be reached through an internet search. The MBTA’s website links to MassDOT’s Performance Management Division, which links back to the MBTA’s webpage in a loop.) The only performance report consistently published by the MBTA […]

Welfare Reform Momentum Must Not Be Stopped

The MBTA’s continuing struggles have dominated local news since February, preventing Governor Baker from pursuing issues of his choice, and those he campaigned on. With last summer’s welfare reform bill awaiting full implementation, Baker should consider shifting focus back onto reforming the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). Temporary Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) is the state’s welfare program, and it is currently in a period of transition with new statutes, a new commissioner, and a falling caseload. Since its inception in 1996, TAFDC has significantly reduced Massachusetts’ welfare population, but not without some ups and downs. The most recent population peak was in October, 2012 when 50,421 assistance units were reported to the US Office of Family Assistance […]

Paid Sick Leave is No Remedy for Small Businesses

A recent Bank of America survey of Boston’s small business owners reflects growing confidence, even as 65 percent of respondents believe they are still recovering from the Great Recession. However, a ballot initiative passed last November threatens years of hard fought progress in Massachusetts’ small business economy. Small businesses are the bedrock of any thriving local economy, and despite recent increased obstacles from chains, 64 percent of Boston entrepreneurs plan to grow their businesses in the next few years (10 percent higher than last year), while 49 percent plan to hire more employees this year (an 8 percent increase). The natural growth of this integral economic sector should be supported, not hindered. The fourth ballot initiative last November, Earned Sick […]

Is Keolis Up to the Task?

The snow has melted from our streets, our fields are filled with oblivious geese, and the lights at Fenway shine on the Sox once again; all signs that Spring has finally arrived. But there is one thing that hasn’t changed, and another that we must not allow to fade. The MBTA is still struggling to snap out of a snow-induced coma, and our wait for a meaningful solution must hold firm as the failings of February retreat into the past. New on-time performance figures released yesterday show that last week’s return to normality may have been the peak of a dangerously sinusoidal pattern, hinting at continuing management problems at Keolis. The average on-time performance during the morning commute two weeks […]

Sunshine Must Return to MBTA This Spring

What began as a benign winter, accumulating only 2.9 inches before the New Year, quickly escalated into a 99.1 inch, two-month-long blizzard throughout January and February. As the snow thaws and sunshine finally returns to Boston’s streets we must take care to learn what we can about dealing with disastrous winter conditions. What have we learned? Chronically deferred maintenance projects result in a rail system ill-prepared for consistently inclement weather; constant expansion has left the MBTA’s resources spread thin; don’t count on reliable delay information from the MBTA to help plan your commute; and when the going gets tough, the MBTA gets going a few months later. Recent on-time performance reports for the commuter rail for the week ending in […]

Commuter Parking Woes Highlight the MBTA’s Problem With Planning

Almost a decade after the completion of the Big Dig, the project aimed at solving significant transportation needs has become a legendary case study of mismanagement. What do we have to show for it? The tendrils of the megaproject continue to tie knots around the state’s infrastructure decisions.  Some of the transit projects that the Conservation Law Foundation negotiated with the state back in 1990 are still underway, including, for example, the long-awaited Green Line expansion to Tufts University in Medford. The principal components of the Big Dig project—the three highway tunnels, new river crossing, rail expansions and other features—are completed, but have the expected results been realized? While downtown is no longer subject to the rumblings of the elevated […]

When Will Commuter Rail Return to Full Service?

March 30th can’t come soon enough for commuter rail riders, though Keolis may dread the date’s arrival. This is when the commuter rail operator promises to finally return to normal service levels, weeks after the blizzards of February. Keolis continues to face an uphill battle as their latest on-time performance statistics leave much to be desired. Trains during peak commuting hours were only on time about 60 percent of the time during the week ending on March 13, with some individual lines scoring below 10 percent. While this is somehow a major improvement over the previous week’s performance, it is still unacceptable to the thousands who rely on the trains to make a living. Looking further into the reports reveals […]

Will MBTA Win Back Riders?

Yesterday the MBTA Board of Directors approved a plan to compensate T riders for dismal service since the storms of late January and February. It will take more than a few perks, however, to erase the months of devastation that the T’s inconsistency has caused for the average worker. The plan calls for a single free day of rides on all forms of transportation on April 24th (the Friday of Massachusetts’ school vacation week), as well as a 15 percent reduction in monthly and weekly passes in the May. The plan’s estimated $5 million cost comes at a time when the T’s apparently forgotten maintenance backlog approaches $7 billion and its out-of-control debt pushes $9 billion when interest is included. […]

MBTA Commuter Rail Only System in Country in Decline Over the Last Decade

Earlier this month, Pioneer Institute reported on the MBTA commuter rail’s problem with timeliness. After further research, however, it is clear that this finding barely taps the surface of the long-brewing problems that the unpopular agency now faces. Thousands rely on the MBTA every day, and yet commuters continue to face commutes characterized by long, uninformed waits and frigid temperatures. The natural question is, what went wrong? Statistics from the National Transit Database (NTD) show that the MBTA is the sixth largest commuter rail system in the country in terms of annual ridership, serving just over 35 million passengers in 2013. Unfortunately, ridership has been declining since its peak of 40 million passenger trips in 2003, bucking the national trend […]

MBTA Commuter Rail: New Boss, Same Problems

We all know that the MBTA’s commuter rail trains can be late, but how late are they? Pioneer Institute looked into how the MBTA’s performance stacks up against other major commuter rail systems in the country, and the results are not pretty. Of the ten largest commuter rail systems in the country by ridership the MBTA consistently performs the worst. A train is considered on-time if it arrives within five minutes of its scheduled arrival time. The reliability of a commuter system’s timeliness is critical to public confidence, making on-time performance the most important measure of operational success. As the sixth biggest commuter rail system the MBTA serves approximately 130,000 people daily and millions per year, and yet it is […]