The MBTA Commuter Rail’s Cost Structure Is Off the Rails

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on

Read coverage of this report in The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

Pioneer Institute’s ongoing analysis of the MBTA’s operations, finances, and performance aims to inform the public debate about the true problems plaguing the T and the most effective ways to improve the commuter experience for Massachusetts’ 1.2 million public transit system riders. Calls for more state funding ignore the system’s serious governance issues, including its misguided focus on expansion projects at the expense of its maintenance backlog.

In recent weeks and months, we published reports using Federal Transit Data to compare the MBTA to other, similar systems across the US. Our last report on the T’s level of capital funding showed that the MBTA has not been cash starved relative to its national peers, contrary to popular belief. We have also learned that the MBTA has added more commuter rail miles than any other commuter rail system operating in the nation since 1991, and that the T received the most capital funding of any of the nation’s 10 largest transit agencies in terms of passenger miles traveled and vehicle revenue hours.    

Our newest report, The MBTA Commuter Rail’s Cost Structure is Off the Rails, compares the MBTA commuter rail to our most similar peer commuter rail system (SEPTA – the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority), and calls into question the often-cited notion that the commuter rail’s underperformance is the result of inadequate funding and outdated transit vehicle inventory. It finds that overall commuter rail operating expenses are high relative to SEPTA; T costs have risen far faster than SEPTA’s; NTD data suggest that the MBTA commuter rail system has dramatically increased its expenditures on vehicle and non-vehicle maintenance over the period studied; and significantly increased expenses in operations and maintenance since 2008 have not led to improvements in vehicle performance.