Getting the T Back on Track

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The reforms that the Massachusetts Legislature advanced at the MBTA just two short years ago are having a tangible impact on the T’s financial viability and operations.

In the near term, more remains to be done to close the T’s annual budget gap, including three big items:

  • competitively bidding the T’s bus maintenance and in-person customer services,
  • further expanding the use of ridesharing and taxicabs in providing The Ride paratransit services, and
  • reforming the T’s troubled pension system.

Just as importantly, the T continues to leave millions of capital dollars – including dollars targeted at critical maintenance projects – unspent.  Below are some recent news items and research from Pioneer that is all aimed at transforming the quality of service at the MBTA.

The Codcast: Pacheco Law punch-outFeaturing Pioneer Research Director Greg Sullivan and state Auditor Suzanne Bump
In what may be a precursor to a soon-to-come Beacon Hill debate on the Pacheco Law, state Auditor Suzanne Bump squared off with Greg Sullivan, research director at Pioneer Institute, to discuss (sometimes heatedly) the pros and cons of the law that regulates privatization of state services. Listen…
CommonWealth magazine: MBTA control board is on trackBy Charles Chieppo
REMARKABLE PROGRESS HAS been made since a Fiscal and Management Control Board was installed during the summer of 2015 and given powers not previously available to MBTA management. Yet those accomplishments are just a down payment on what it will take to fix the T, and the clock is ticking.As difficult as many of the board’s decisions have been, far greater challenges lie ahead. With less than a year and a half remaining on the MBTA’s exemption from the Commonwealth’s anti-privatization law and the possibility that the Fiscal and Management Control Board could go out of existence at the same time, the board must act quickly to capitalize on the trust it has earned. Read more…
Salem News: MBTA service improves after Baker’s reforms

By Christian Wade

Excerpt: “Mary Connaughton, director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute, a Boston think tank, said the Baker administration has made “huge steps” toward reducing the system’s structural deficit and reining in operating costs.
The agency needs to invest some of that savings in capital improvements, she said, to confront a $7 billion backlog of deferred maintenance. “It’s grown so big that it’s hampering further progress,” she said. “And that’s not going to go away overnight. It’s going to take a long time to get the money to pay for those projects.” Connaughton said increasing T ridership is a key to its financial health. MBTA figures show about 123,000 people rode the commuter rail on an average day in December – an estimated drop of about 8,000 riders from the beginning of the year. Read more...

WBZ I-Team: Managers At MBTA Drive Secret Take-Home Cars Owned By Contractors

Pioneer Institute’s Mary Z. Connaughton appeared on WBZ-TV’s I-Team Investigates segment last week, to discuss a taxpayer-funded perk that some MBTA managers have been taking advantage of for 30 years: unmarked take-home cars owned by construction companies that contract with the MBTA on multi-million dollar projects. The companies and the MBTA also covered costs associated with gas, insurance, maintenance, and parking. The MBTA reacted swiftly to WBZ‘s questioning. The agency has already returned all 23 vehicles to the companies, and ended the practice of putting the vehicle provision in its contracts. Pioneer Institute filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission to review whether the take-home car perk violated conflict of interest laws. The I-Team covered this in a follow-up story.  Watch the segment.   

The Boston Globe: Why the MBTA needs more riders
By Jim Stergios

FEBRUARY 09, 2017

If 2016 demonstrated anything, it is that in politics, a year is time enough to scramble all truisms. Massachusetts is no different – and in a good way.
Who would have thought that, in his 2017 State of the State address, Governor Baker would highlight Brian Shortsleeve, chief administrator and acting general manager of the MBTA, and Carmen’s Union head Jim O’Brien as partners in reform? Just a year ago, the Carmen viewed Shortsleeve as a demolition man imposed on them along with the Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB). To the governor’s team, O’Brien was Mr. Status Quo.

Read more in The Boston Globe

Visit MBTA Analysis – see how the MBTA compares to peer transit agencies across the U.S.

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Learn more about our research on how to fix the MBTA!

Study Finds Pension Obligation Bonds Could Worsen T Retirement Fund’s Financial Woes

A new study published by Pioneer Institute finds that issuing pension obligation bonds (POBs) to refinance $360 million of the MBTA Retirement Fund’s (MBTARF’s) $1.3 billion unfunded pension liability would only compound the T’s already serious financial risks.

Study Documents The Design Challenges, Contracting Issues, And Delays Facing New MBTA Fare Collection System

This new study unearths previously unseen communications between the MBTA and its contractors, showing that the MBTA’s efforts to modernize its fare collection system, including allowing payments with credit cards and bringing “tap and go” technology to Commuter Rail and ferry lines, was riddled with technological challenges and difficulties overseeing contractors as early as 2019, culminating in a 3-year delay to the project’s full implementation.

Study Finds Bus Rapid Transit Can Offer Cost-Effective Benefits

Bus rapid transit (BRT) incorporates unique features such as dedicated lanes to provide reliable and cost-effective service while reducing congestion and its detrimental environmental impacts, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

Study Raises Concern That Annual T Fare Evasion Costs Could Rise By More Than $30 Million Under AFC 2.0

According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the MBTA’s $935.4 million fare collection system (AFC 2.0) that is scheduled to be implemented in 2023 will reduce fare evasion by $35 million over a decade. But the T announced in 2021 that evasion could actually increase by up to $30 million under AFC 2.0, and now a Pioneer Institute study warns that insufficient fare enforcement could drive that figure even higher under the new system.

Pioneer Applauds MassDOT for Allston Project All At-Grade Plan

Pioneer Institute applauds the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (Mass DOT) for its decision to move forward with an all at-grade design for the “throat” area as part of the massive $1.7 billion Allston I-90 Interchange project announced yesterday by State Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler. Pioneer had proposed that MassDOT should revise its Scoping Report on the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project and recommend an additional option - a modified at-grade option for the throat area - to the Federal Highway Administration.

Open Letter: Extend the Term of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board

Read Pioneer Institute's Open Letter urging policymakers to extend the term of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB), which is currently scheduled to sunset at the end of June.  The Letter also calls for the Control Board to continue to be made up of transit experts rather than political appointees, and recommends that an independent audit office be created that reports directly to the FMCB.

Pioneer Institute Statement on MBTA Service Cuts

Even as MBTA ridership and revenue have been gutted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the system remains a lifeline for so many residents in the Greater Boston area, especially those working in essential services like health care or in industries most impacted by the pandemic such as the restaurant sector.  Facing a crisis of this magnitude, T leadership must first do its all to rethink how it delivers services before reflexively making cuts.

COVID-19 Silver Lining: MBTA Takes Advantage of Ridership Lull to Accelerate $8.5 Billion Modernization Program

Pioneer Institute congratulates the Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) and MBTA management for taking advantage of the precipitous ridership declines due to the COVID pandemic to dramatically accelerate ongoing construction projects.

Survey Suggests Demand for Telecommuting After COVID-19 Crisis

Citing an avoidance of the commute and more flexible scheduling, nearly 63 percent of respondents to Pioneer Institute’s survey, “Will You Commute To Work When The COVID-19 Crisis Is Over?” expressed a preference to work from home one day a week, and a plurality preferred two to three days a week, even after a COVID-19 vaccine is available. Respondents cite social isolation as the biggest drawback of remote work. The survey was conducted from April 22nd to May 15th, and received responses from over 700 individuals.

Study Highlights Transit Agency Best Practices in Response to COVID-19

The MBTA is taking a number of important steps to mitigate risks associated with the coronavirus, but some transit agencies around the country - from Philadelphia to San Francisco - have done significantly more, according to a new study that highlights the best practices of U.S. transit systems in response to COVID-19.

A Control Board Equipped for the Next Phase of MBTA Reform

In a new policy brief out today, Pioneer Institute calls on the Massachusetts Legislature to extend the life of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board beyond the current fiscal year ending on June 30, and adjust it to address the agency's new challenges.

Pioneer Urges MassDOT to Reconsider At-Grade Throat Option for I-90 Allston Multimodal Project

Pioneer's new Public Comment calls on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to revise its Scoping Report on the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project and recommend an additional option to the Federal Highway Administration.

Study Finds Revived Merit Rating Board Taking Steps to Carry Out Statutorily Mandated Duties

The Merit Rating Board’s recent adoption of a regular meeting schedule, and related resolutions, are important steps in light of that Board’s 1976 governing statute.

Pioneer Institute Announces Winner of 29th Annual Better Government Competition

Pioneer Institute is pleased to announce that Los Angeles Country Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro)’s program, “Operation Farm Team: Global Transportation Infrastructure Workforce Initiative” is the winner of the 29th annual Better Government Competition. The theme of the 2019 contest was, “Moving People, Moving Goods, Moving Forward,” focusing on innovations that prepare America for the future of transportation.

Study Calls for Easing MBTA Procurement Restrictions and Beefing Up Project Management Capacity

Reforms needed if T is to achieve increased capital spending…

Pioneer Institute Public Statement: A Season for Management Reforms

The MBTA's red and green line derailments this week highlight…

Whistleblowers Were Proven Right: MBTARF Was Underreporting Its Unfunded Pension Liabilities

In a new brief, Pioneer shows that whistleblowers’ 2015 claim…