Today I joined dozens of legislators from around Massachusetts in riding the T to work as a part of “Gov on the T,” a project focused on raising awareness about the problems facing our public transit system.
Many of my constituents have called or written me in recent months to express their profound frustration with the current state of public transit in Greater Boston. Though this winter has made the poor state of the MBTA’s equipment obvious, regular transit riders know that our system has difficulties year-round. Much of this is due to aging and obsolete equipment that is overdue for replacement. Unfortunately, continued budget problems at the T have hampered new investment and led to fare increases for commuters. Without new revenue or a reduction in expenses, the ability for the T to serve as a foundation of our region’s economy will continue to be at risk.
For this reason, I support alleviating the T of some of the so-called “Big Dig Debt” as a way to reduce pressure on its budget. While this debt is associated with legitimate public transit projects that were built as a part of Big Dig mitigation agreements, it continues to contribute to budget deficits that keep the T from making needed investments in signaling systems and other equipment that directly impact service quality. Shifting this debt obligation to the Commonwealth Transportation Fund would provide over $100 million in relief to the T every year.
While we still have a lot of hard work to do in order to achieve the public transit system that we want and deserve, I also think that it is important to acknowledge some of the recent victories we have achieved in pursuit of this goal. Two years ago, the legislature passed transportation financing legislation that helped jump start investment in equipment and system expansion. Since then, the T has entered into a contract for the purchase of 284 new subway cars in order to upgrade to the aging Red and Orange Line fleets. Delivery of the new cars is scheduled to begin in 2019, and will provide substantial reliability improvements for Red and Orange line riders.
This transportation financing legislation also helped secure a $1 billion New Starts grant from the federal government for the Green Line Extension. This grant is absolutely critical to extending Green Line service to areas of Somerville that have been the most chronically underserved by mass transit. It also brings with it the purchase of new Green Line cars and the construction of a new Green Line maintenance facility, which will serve Green Line riders system-wide.
As someone who believes that public transit is an essential public good, this winter has been difficult and at times discouraging. For that reason, I want to thank everyone who has called, written, or stopped by my office to advocate for a better transit system. Your voices have helped bring this issue into focus for elected officials across Massachusetts, and it is essential that we keep the conversation going.