Recent history of the T

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On Tuesday, Jan. 3, the MBTA outlined two proposals to reduce the more  than-$161 million budget deficit projected for fiscal 2013 in a presentation to  legislators. Both proposals included fare hikes, the reduction of services and a  complete elimination of the commuter boat subsidy. As the senator representing  the South Shore, I know this will have a negative effect on my district. I am  frustrated with the MBTA’s proposal, especially the elimination of the commuter  boat subsidy.

The Hingham commuter boat has been a means of public transportation that I  have supported since its inception. In fact, during the years of negotiations  over the construction of the Greenbush commuter rail line from 2001 to 2007, I  strongly advocated for an expansion of commuter boat services both in Hingham  and Scituate over the creation of the commuter rail line. I have long since  believed that Greenbush represents a decision marked by poor planning and false  promises.

The years since the conclusion of construction have only further supported  my original concerns regarding the $513 million Greenbush restoration project.  In fact, the MBTA blue ribbon commission report from 2000 warned that “in order  to avoid saddling future generations of riders with overwhelming costs…the  committee recommends a moratorium on all capital projects” unless they “result  in measurable increases in productivity or revenues.” Two years later, a Pioneer  Institute study found that the MBTA was already straying from the  recommendations of the 2000 report and again warned against unnecessary capital  expansion. Unfortunately, these warnings went unheeded, and the Greenbush  restoration went full steam ahead.

In 2010, the Metropolitan Planning Organization conducted a study of the  recently completed Greenbush line comparing the projected ridership numbers and  the actual numbers. The report is clear — Greenbush has not attracted riders,  has hurt the commuter boat and not reduced any congestion on Route 3 or Route 3A  as originally stated.

Greenbush ridership is only 60 percent of what was projected, with an actual  peak ridership of 1,934 instead of the projected 3,320 by 2010. Ridership on  commuter boats is down 24 percent since launch, and more than two-thirds of  Scituate, Cohasset and Hingham riders used to use the commuter boat.

Greenbush is not removing cars from the highway, as 66 percent of Greenbush  riders were already using mass transit — 15.8 percent on the commuter rail, 46.6  percent on the commuter boat and 3.4 percent by private bus. It has also not  eased congestion, astraffic fell by a greater rate elsewhere in Metropolitan  Boston region — 14 percent as compared to 4.2 percent in the Greenbush region — and the study said the decline has more to do with the recession and high gas  prices.

I have never doubted the need for expanded mass transit options along the  Greenbush corridor. I opposed the commuter rail because the constantly rising  price tag — it jumped 25 percent alone between 2001 and 2007 — didn’t justify  the relatively small number of cars being removed from the roadways, especially  when the MBTA was prioritizing Greenbush over projects such as the Green Line  extension to Medford, which would have a much larger impact on air quality and  vehicular traffic. Additionally, the MBTA’s own report from the blue ribbon  commission further supported my skepticism of the Greenbush restoration  project.

On top of the sizeable annual debt service being paid by the MBTA for  Greenbush, the MBTA must also pay millions of dollars annually to cover the  line’s operating loss.

All of this is the backdrop to the proposals the MBTA presented to the  Legislature. The plans include a potential 35 to 43 percent increase in fares  and a 19 to 20 percent reduction in service, including cancellation of weekend  service on the commuter rail, and both plans call for the entire elimination of  the commuter boat subsidy.

While it is a cause for concern to be raising fares during a down economy, I  can understand the need to increase fares throughout the entire MBTA system. I  would prefer that fares are not increased, but the need for additional revenue  at the agency is clear. What I cannot understand is why we would first create  the commuter line — which abjectly affected a better, cheaper and already  existing means of public transportation to the tune of $513 million from  taxpayers — then eliminate the subsidy that supported the most cost-effective  alternative. In addition to the elimination of the commuter boat, the MBTA would  be canceling weekend service to the only remaining means of public  transportation for residents on the South Shore, making this a curious decision  at best.

Maintenance costs alone on the Greenbush line are exorbitant, including the  now necessary replacement of all the concrete rail ties along the 57-mile Old  Colony Line at a cost of $91.5 million to the taxpayers. This comes less than 10  years after the completed construction.

The commuter boat represented a better investment at the time of the  Greenbush negotiations, and has only continued to look better since the new  line’s completion. Eliminating an economically viable and potent industry in my  district is not the way the T should go about solving its debt burden.  Responsibility for bad decisions and poor planning lie with the agency  responsible for those decisions, not those supporting the services they  provide.

The burden of balancing the T’s budget should not fall solely on the  commuters who use those services. It is time for real progress to be made, not  knee-jerk reactions by an agency that has proved its inability to live within  its means.

As a long-serving member of the transportation committee, I have been vocal  regarding the MBTA’s repeated refusals to implement the recommendations of  independent studies. The MBTA wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on a  boondoggle and now wants to clean up the mess by eliminating the most  efficiently run service they provide while saddling customers with an  overwhelming burden that the MBTA knew all along was unavoidable. This is simply  unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Although I will be making my opposition clear, the MBTA still needs to hear  directly from commuter boat riders. I encourage you to attend one of the MBTA’s  upcoming local public hearings to express your concerns. The meetings are  Wednesday, Feb. 8, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the central meeting room of Hingham Town  Hall at 210 Central St., and Wednesday, Feb. 15, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Thomas  Crane Public Library community room, 40 Washington St., Quincy.

I also recommend you to join the Facebook page I have created called “Save  the MBTA Commuter Boat” to receive the latest updates on these proposals.

Also seen in Marshfield Mariner and Hingham Journal