MassDOT, Scorecards, and the Gas Tax

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In my last post, I put together a model of what MassDOT communicating results to the public might look like. (And I know it’s not perfect — weigh in below with suggestions for improving it.)

But getting this part right is the foundation of any discussion of a gas tax. It has to look like a contract — you taxpayers pay this, and MassDOT will give you value in return. Without refocusing the transportation agency on consumer-centered metrics, why would the public think that an increase in the gas tax will lead to service improvements?

A credible two-way request for more tax dollars paired with specific performance benchmarks — e.g., reduced congestion, increased on-time performance, and fewer structurally deficient bridges — would get us somewhere. A one-way request for more money, with no agreed-upon definition of success is a non-starter.

This contract would, by necessity, focus MassDOT’s focus on the long-term neglect of maintenance which has resulted in delays and aggravation for a generation of transit users and commuters.

It would require the ongoing emphasis on expansion to stop. As Federal Transit Administration’s chief Peter Rogoff stated in Boston last year, “If you can’t afford to operate the system you have, why does it make sense for us to partner in your expansion?”

If more tax revenues mean more expansion, leaving us in precisely the same situation 10 years from now but with a larger portfolio of assets, forget it. If MassDOT can credibly let the public know how it will prioritize maintenance and improve our current system, that’s the beginning of the conversation.