Baker: T Is "Safe" and Getting People To Their Destinations
In just the past few weeks, a jogger died after falling through a closed MBTA stairwell, an escalator malfunctioned and caused injuries to people at the T's Back Bay Station, and then on Tuesday a Red Line train derailed and damaged the track and platform at Broadway Station.
The spate of problems were just the latest at the transit authority, which for years has struggled with on-time performance, equipment failures, and a rash of derailments. Nearly two years ago, an independent panel concluded that the T had taken a "questionable" approach to safety due to fiscal belt-tightening, a lack of trust in leadership, and frequent lapses in maintenance and inspections.
And while Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday again declared the T "safe," many riders are unsurprisingly not fully convinced. The problems are fueling a surge in advocacy for both Baker and the Democrats who control the Legislature to accelerate the pace of positive change at the T.
"Injuries are rare. Incidents like Tuesday are not," Jarred Johnson, executive director of TransitMatters, said at a press conference outside the State House on Thursday, referring to the Red Line derailment. "Unfortunately, there are thousands of canceled buses and delayed trains that wreak havoc on the schedules and the lives of people across the region, and those often aren't news stories."
Johnson and others, including representatives of essential workers who have relied on the T to get to jobs during the pandemic, called on Baker and the Legislature to take immediate steps to make the T reliable and safe and to help the state grow its economy and meet its emission reduction targets.
Several speakers implored Baker to appoint members to a new MBTA board of directors created under a July law. As October nears, speakers said, the T needs a dedicated governing body to ensure accountability, which it has not had since lawmakers and Baker allowed the former Fiscal and Management Control Board to expire on June 30.
"We have had lots of very pie-in-the-sky promises from the governor, but when it comes to the actual keeping the system intact, where's our new oversight board? It's been three months and we have yet to see the new board appointed," said Stuart Spina, speaking on behalf of Alternatives for Community and Environment and the T Riders Union.
Speakers didn't focus just on the Republican governor. They also implored legislative Democrats to revisit the transportation revenue debate that was raging in 2019 and early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the Senate decided to shelve a House-approved package. Since then, legislative leaders have given no indication that they plan to roll out new revenue bills.
Collique Williams, an organizer with Community Labor United, said the T's problems are "symptoms of the system that has been underfunded for too long" and said the T for too many years has relied too heavily on fare revenue. That approach, he said, was exposed when ridership cratered due to COVID.
Williams called on voters to pass a constitutional amendment imposing an income surtax on wealthy households next fall and for the Legislature to pass "new, fair and sustainable revenue sources," including raising the corporate income tax.
Added Johnson: "My message to the Legislature is this: the T doesn't run on hopes and dreams, hoping that Washington will solve problems and dreaming about flexible work options solving traffic congestion ... It's time for the Legislature to act now and fund the T."
With Massachusetts once again tuned in to T issues, thanks to its recent problems, Baker during an event in Framingham on Wednesday told reporters, "First of all, the MBTA is safe."
He later added, "I think there have been eight derailments in the past 24 months. That's eight too many, but again the T is safe and every single day thousands and thousands of people rely on it to get to where they're going and it works."
The governor went on to describe the MBTA as "old" and said "historic investments" were being made that are "the most ambitious in history" and should have been undertaken by his predecessors.
Asked by a reporter if people should be fired or a new board appointed, Baker said the incidents are being investigated, and the investigations must be done first "before any decisions get made about some of those other questions."
The governor said he was "in the process of appointing a new board" and noted the state transportation board that currently oversees the MBTA includes members who served on the now-expired T board.
Baker also expressed hope that Washington can agree on an infrastructure investment bill, saying such legislation could provide "significant additional investment" in the T and in transportation.
"I hope they get something done," Baker said.
Outside the State House, Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance, said she agreed with Baker's assertion that his predecessors should have made bigger investments in the T and showcased 30 reports assembled over the past 20 years that pointed to "chronic disinvestment."
Calling on Baker to immediately appoint a T board, Thompson also asked the Legislature to turn its attention back to an MBTA revenue bill, saying the needs flagged in the 2020 debate are still there.
"They just need to get back to work and get it done," she said.