THE PIONEER BLOG

VIDEO: Making a Difference Through METCO

A new video about the METCO program centers around the friendship between two Wayland High School students; one who lives in Wayland and the other from Boston. It also features interviews with METCO CEO Milly Arbaje-Thomas and Mabel Reid-Wallace, Director of Wayland’s METCO program.

MassAnalysis: Highest income towns per capita within average debt range or higher

Understanding debt limits Municipalities issue debt to fund long-term capital projects such as schools and other buildings. In well-run communities, bond terms align with the lives of the capital assets being funded, a practice that provides resources for future projects. Paying debt service on assets long out of use can have dire financial consequences. So who decides when bonds should be issued? Cities, towns, and special purpose districts may authorize indebtedness by a two-thirds vote of their respective legislative bodies. A municipality’s statutory debt limit is based on equalized valuations (EQV). The EQV represents the estimated value of all taxable property in each municipality, an amount that is regulated and reviewed every three years by the Commonwealth’s Bureau of Local […]

Telecommuting Tax Credit Stands to Help Public Transportation

Governor Baker recently proposed a telecommuting tax credit that would incentivize businesses to allow employees to work from home. The program is a part of a bill that would create a $2,000-per-employee tax credit, capped at $50 million annually, awarded to businesses that allow working from home as a way to reduce the number of cars on the road. The Governor hopes the program will reduce congestion and cut commuting times. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Massachusetts ranks 20th in the country in the percentage of full-time telecommuters, with 4.7% of the workforce working from home. The tax credit is part of the Governor’s $18 billion long-term transportation spending plan. The telecommuter tax credit would presumably be part of […]

MBTA Facilities in Desperate Need of Spending Increase

A number of MBTA facilities have deteriorated in recent years. As a result, many commuters are left to navigate stations with crumbling steps, limited access for the disabled, broken elevators, and leaking ceilings. The condition of these facilities is not surprising, given the T’s lack of spending compared to peer transportation systems.  A 2018 report published by the MBTA rated the agency’s stations and parking facilities on a scale of 1 to 5. The report found that nearly 60 percent of the MBTA’s 378 stations and parking facilities scored 2 or less, meaning they need significant repairs. Seventy eight of those properties had a rating of 1. To make matters worse, some of the worst-rated stations include major hubs such […]

Signs of Growth in Several Gateway Cities

It’s safe to say that Boston is the economic hub of Massachusetts and will be for the foreseeable future. However, a number of cities have the potential to boost the Commonwealth’s economy in the long-run. These communities, known as “gateway cities”, were once home to booming industries that have since left; but what these industries left behind can become the foundations for another wave of economic development. Gateway cities have struggled both economically and socially over the past several decades. In fact, two characteristics that originally defined these cities were rates of educational attainment and median household incomes below the state average. While these issues persist, some communities are showing notable signs of growth, the first of which is rising […]

MassAnalysis: What are the 10 towns with the highest local taxes per capita?

Massachusetts municipalities generate the bulk of their revenue from local taxes, primarily property taxes. Tax revenue is spent on a variety of community needs including: Education Road and bridge construction Public safety Sewers and water In 2016, the 10 towns with the highest local taxes per capita had all been within the top 20 towns since 2000, according to MassAnalysis.  The towns with the highest local taxes per capita remained steady over the previous 16 years. All had less than a 20 percent increase. The amount of revenue local municipalities have to generate largely depends on how much state aid they receive. Overall, the ten towns with the highest local income taxes per capita receive very little state aid. These […]

MBTA Struggles with Commuter Rail Ridership Count

Accurate ridership calculations are critical for public transportation planning as they are a key factor in prioritizing projects. MBTA ridership statistics help determine the optimal allocation of capital among lines and trains as well as projecting capacity requirements for station platforms, waiting areas, and parking facilities.  Further, ridership patterns on existing lines can be used to predict probable patterns on proposed service extensions. The commuter rail falls far short in obtaining sufficient ridership data needed for highly calibrated project planning. Unlike subway and bus services that are operated directly by the MBTA, the commuter rail system lacks the faregates or fareboxes that, under ideal circumstances, can count passengers. The conductors on each commuter rail train must collect fares and inspect […]

MBTA’s Bus Program Driving in the Wrong Direction

According to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com, the MBTA’s bus program has the second largest ridership of all MBTA modes of transportation trailing only the heavy rail system. However, in recent years ridership has begun to decline while operating expenses have risen.  From 2015 to 2017 unlinked passenger bus trips decreased by 13.3%. This was a significant shift as ridership had increased by 22.1% from 2009 to 2015. Further, total operating expenses continued to increase despite the falling ridership. Since 2015, when ridership began to decrease significantly, bus operating expenses increased by 7.1%. The expenses show no signs of slowing, as they grew by 46.4% between 2007 and 2017, increasing every year in that span. This rise led to the total operating […]

How Do Massachusetts’s State Pensions Compare with Their Peers?

For those who have kept up with Pioneer’s work on pensions, it’s clear that Massachusetts’s public retirement systems are troubled. However, readers still may wonder how these systems compare to those in other states.  Unfortunately, a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that the Commonwealth’s state-run pensions are underperforming relative to other states. This is especially concerning given that, as a whole, public pension systems nationwide are considerably underfunded. Using data from 2017 — “the most recent year for which comprehensive data were available for all 50 states” — the report found that the average funded ratio of state-run pensions was 69.1%. At just 59.9% in 2017, the funded ratio of Massachusetts was almost 10 percentage points below the […]

No Clear Correlation Between Fare Revenue and Ridership

In recent weeks, many MBTA riders have expressed frustration about the T’s recent fare hike. In fact, some riders are volunteering to stand on platforms and lead a conversation about what riders can do to roll back the hike. However, the T is unlikely to budge. Even when ridership declines for a period, fare revenue continues to climb. The last three fare hikes occurred in 2012, 2014, and 2016. While all three led to a decrease in unlinked passenger trips the following year, they generated an increase in fare revenue. In fact, fare revenue increased every year from 2007-2017, with the exception of 2010. Further, the largest increase in fare revenue actually came in a year in which ridership declined. […]

The Chancellor at this University Makes about 18.5 Times what an Average Employee at this Same University Makes… 

According to MassOpenBooks, the average annual pay for UMass Medical School Employees is $57,746. But as highlighted in the chart below, Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins makes $1,069,752.  According to USA Today, the income that qualifies a Massachusetts resident to be included in the top 1% is $582,774.  When looking at MassOpenBooks 2018 Highest Paid Employees under Higher Education, four out of the six highest-paid employees earning more than $582,774 annually are all from UMass Medical School. TITLE NAME BASE PAY OTHER PAY TOTAL PAY Chancellor and SVP Health Services Michael Collins $742,777 $326,975 $1,069,752 Executive Deputy Chancellor Provost and Dean Terence Flotte $722,495 $224,042 $946,537 Executive VP Innovation and Bus Development  James Glasheen  $477,327 $193,941 $671,268 Executive Vice Chancellor, […]

Did Justice Prevail? Questions Surrounding Correctional Officers and Budgetary Allocation within the Suffolk County Sheriff Department and Others

According to MassOpenBooks 2018 statistics, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department is the 18th highest department by average pay of all employees from 126 departments listed (excluding authorities) in the state. It has 1,135 employees who earn a total of $85,059,220.  While the total number of employees decreased from 1,138 in 2012 to 1,135 in 2018, the number of “correctional officers” from South Bay House of Correction increased from 391 in 2012 to 441 in 2018. In six years, the average pay of correctional officers increased 76 percent, from $18,084 in 2012 to $75,296 in 2018, while total pay in the entire department increased 15 percent over the same period, from $71,939,046 to $85,059,220.   Similarly, the number of “jail officers” from […]

MassOpenBooks: A Look at the Highest Paid Private Vendors in 2018

In 2018, quasi-public Massachusetts agencies made a total of 115,202 payments worth $7.1 billion to private vendors. Quasi-public agencies are entities that receive state funding but remain partially autonomous from the executive and legislative branches. Since these agencies are somewhat independent, a look at which private vendors are paid the most, can provide important insights that promote accountability and efficient use of tax dollars.  MassOpenBooks supports this objective by presenting the large dataset in an accessible way. As displayed in the “Totals” section of MassOpenBooks, the average payment was $61,874, and the largest payment was approximately $151 million.  Below are the top five private vendors for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), the Massachusetts Port Authority, and the Commonwealth Health […]

Vehicle Maintenance Expenses Reveal Need for Updated T System

The MBTA is in the midst of a transformative $8 billion, five-year capital investment program. There is perhaps no better metric that represents the necessity of the MBTA’s initiative than vehicle maintenance expenses.  According to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com, between 2007 and 2017 the T experienced a nearly 60 percent increase in overall vehicle maintenance expenses as spending grew from $211,925,186 in 2007 to $338,597,765 in 2017. While peer transportation systems also experienced higher vehicle maintenance costs, the MBTA far surpassed them. In fact, the T went from seventh to fourth among its peers in terms of vehicle maintenance expenses between 2007 and 2017. One of the main reasons the MBTA experienced such a significant increase was the rise in vehicle […]

Demand Response Transportation on the Decline

Despite a growth in public transportation use in recent years, the MBTA has seen a decline in demand response transportation. Demand response transportation is on-demand service primarily for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as some other services like commuter shuttles. According to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com, the MBTA’s demand response transportation experienced a 20 percent decrease between 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. The MBTA’s primary demand response transportation is the RIDE, a paratransit service that serves the elderly and disabled. The decline in RIDE users is likely due to the emergence of ridesharing apps, as usage of the MBTA’s demand response transportation began to decline in 2013, shortly after Uber launched in Massachusetts. This is unsurprising considering the convenience ridesharing apps […]