Cambridge, MA -- In the wake of last winter’s severe service disruptions and the ongoing debate over cost overruns associated with the Green Line extension, Charles Chieppo, a senior fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School today released a report outlining a number of reforms intended to put the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) fiscal house in order.
Chieppo’s report, Transforming the T: How MBTA Reform Can Right Our Broken Transportation System, notes that with the T’s expenses projected to far outpace revenue growth in the coming years, absent reform, the transportation agency’s acute financial problems will only be compounded -- leading to a further deterioration in infrastructure and service levels.
To tackle this fiscal crisis, Chieppo recommends a series of reforms to help get the T back on track, including:
Prioritizing Customer Service
Customer service should be the MBTA’s top priority. Specifically, the T should establish a set of customer-service focused metrics, put them on the T’s website, and constantly update the system’s performance. The state should then assume a portion of the MBTA’s debt based on the agency’s success in achieving these goals.
Recuperating Greater Share of Operating Costs Through Fares
The MBTA should aim to increase the portion of its operating costs that is covered by fare revenue consistent with other transit agencies around the country. The MBTA should also develop a more flexible fare policy that includes pairing fare increases with discounts for low-income riders.
Putting the Brakes on Further Expansion
Given the MBTA’s dire finances and recent history of aggressive expansion, no major expansion projects should be undertaken beyond those required by law (such as the troubled Green Line extension) until the T’s current state of good repair backlog is eliminated.
Reforming The Ride
Chieppo contrasts the ballooning cost of The Ride, the MBTA’s on-demand service for disabled riders who can’t use buses and trains with the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services’ Human Service Transportation (HST) Office, which provides similar service at about one-third the cost of The Ride.
Contracting Out Bus Maintenance
The MBTA should take advantage of the three-year exemption from Massachusetts’ anti-privatization statute, known as the Pacheco Law, which was enacted earlier this year to contract out maintenance for its buses.
Ending Final and Binding Arbitration
Chieppo argues that the T should operate by the same rules as the rest of the public sector in Massachusetts. Doing so would potentially save taxpayers and riders tens of millions of dollars in health insurance and other benefits by putting T employees on the same level as state employees.
Moving MBTA Employees and Retirees into the State Pension Fund
The MBTA Retirement Fund (MBTARF), while partially funded by taxpayers, suffers from a lack of transparency and releases only certain financial documents to the public, according to Chieppo’s report. Further, state employees pay a larger portion of their salaries toward pension contributions than those employed by the T.
About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
The Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence and innovation in governance and public policy through research, education, and public discussion. Three major programs support our mission: the Program on Democratic Governance; the Innovations in Government Program; and the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia. For more information, visit www.ash.harvard.edu.
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Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation