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The MBTA – A Symptom of a Broader Problem

The notion that the MBTA 'suddenly' has to cut services and increase fees by 43 percent because of a $160 million budget gap next year reeks of irresponsibility.

The notion that the MBTA 'suddenly' has to cut services and increase fees by 43 percent because of a $160 million budget gap next year reeks of irresponsibility. Not just on the part of the MBTA, but on all parties involved.

People depend on the MBTA. It is a very important public commodity. I am a regular user of the MBTA Providence-Boston line.

Not only how, but why did it come to this? Were there not revenue projections? Did this problem sneak up on us where we did not have a chance to hold hearings over the years? What happened here?

The MBTA – It is inconceivable that the MBTA did not know that its budget was going to be in the red. If the MBTA knew there was going to be a problem, why was more not done earlier?

The Executive Branch – The idea that there is no money to be found, yet there are budget problems in various agencies, is a red flag that there are more problems on the horizon. I don't care if it is a Democrat or Republican administration. This is unacceptable.

The Legislative Branch – Legislators are supposed to watch executive agencies and their activities. Nothing short of laziness or incompetence is why we face this problem. Have individual legislators sounded the warning bell? Perhaps one or several did. But the body did nothing and that is why we are where we are.

The Public – We get the government we deserve. While we place our trust in our elected officials, our responsibility does not end there. A citizenry needs to stay informed about what is going on and we need to monitor what our elected officials are doing (or not doing). A lot of citizens do care, but not enough do. All citizens need to care more or there will be more of the same. So long as we have expectations from a government of, by and for the people, we must expect that we need to maintain a watchful eye over a government. After all, we are the boss!

Me – I did not know the MBTA had this specific looming problem. But I have rang the warning bells on other looming public policy issues, such as overcrowding with the MA DOC prison population and the need for outcome evaluations on all taxpayer funded programs and government initiatives.

There is reason to believe that our budget problems are not over. Secretary of Administration and Finance Gonzalez reportedly said that the rising costs in health care and other areas has already strained the state budget and therefore, there is no more to help the MBTA. According to the Sun Chronicle, health care took up 22 percent of the budget in 1998 and now it takes up 41 percent. As a taxpayer, I want to know if rising health care costs are delivering better health care outcomes. Also, are all of the fixed costs paid for with taxpayer dollars efficiently spent? How do we know? If we don't know, why not?

I am not saying that a 43 percent hike in revenues or cuts in services is not necessary at this point. Maybe it has come to this—although I believe there is always a third option to be found. Going forward, we should not be afraid to sound the alarm when a report shows we have a problem on the horizon or sound the alarm when there are no reports on how well a government agency is doing our job. What I am saying is that there is no need for this happen again.

Paul Heroux is an Attleboro resident and has a Master's in Public Administration from the Harvard School of Government, is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has extensive experience in government accountability and performance measurement. He can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.

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Johnny March 19, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Probably be cheaper to drive yourself after the rate increase.
paul March 21, 2012 at 02:03 PM
A lot of it is cash money, the metal boxes stuffed with dollars at the MBTA parking lots, the conductors with big loafs of cash on the trains, the toll booths, the machines that sell subway tokens. When you have that much cash, it's easy to make some vanish.
Tisiphone March 21, 2012 at 03:59 PM
The price of ridership on the MBTA has always been heavily subsidized. The amount of the subsidy is hard to find,if not actually concelaed. Since the amount of money atvailable for subsidies is finite, and the demands are many, so or later the system has to break. I once knew a deceased politican who headed up transportation in the 1940's. He once told me that the New Bedford, Fall RIver, commuter line (which we now plan to revitalize, with subsidy) was closed in the 40's because "it would be cheaper to buy every rider a new Cadillac".
Steve Hopkins March 29, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Has there been an independent accounting hired to evaluate where the money is going? Is outsourcing of repairs costing more than hiring skilled staff, or vice vera? time to stop using /taking cash for payment. How about a 'speed pass' as used on the Pike, or just your credit card? Wonder if there are many more people selling fake tickets. Catch them and sue them. Take everything they have, sell it and put them in jail for awhile! How are other cities getting by with their mass transit systems? How do the salaries measure up against the norm. And union benefits? Lot's of questions that we the public should know the answers to. So, Paul, what can you offer in response. Do you have more inside info
Paul Heroux March 30, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Hi, Steve, I don't have the answers to those questions but those are exactly the sorts of thing I'd like to know. Looking at what works elsewhere and applying it here should be done with caution, but it can be successful if done right. All good points. Paul
Jamie K. May 22, 2012 at 11:53 PM
The trouble with the MBTA began in 2000 with the Forward Funding Act in the state legislature. In exchange for 20% of the state sales tax, the state gave the MBTA 3 billion dollars worth of it's debt. To continue to service and pay back the debt, the MBTA incurs a yearly expense of 374 million ( Which is coincidentally twice as much as the projected income gap) and since 2000 has had to raise fairs 3 times. For shame Mr. Heroux. I was expecting something more substantial.

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