MBTA budget-o-matic

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council has put up an MBTA budget calculator that lets you play with different ways of paying for the T. If only it were this easy to get the legislature to actually do something about the problem.

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How much debt would you actually relieve?

I agree that the T got screwed with debt, so I offer a hypothetical question that I've often asked myself.

If things were to be made normal again and the T were relieved of the debt it was burdened with because of the Big Dig, how much of the debt should be taken of their plate?

I only ask because I think it's a good question. You can't relieve all of the debt because the T had debt before it was piled on. Even a portion of the Big Dig debt was legitimate.

Discuss.

All of it

I say all of it. Think of all of the great things the MBTA could have been doing for the past 10 years that it's been completely incapable of doing because it's been paying debt for a transit project that it got roped into and had little interest in. Imagine a transit system that was actually able to not only put itself in good working order, but actually tout a number of ideas for improving and expanding service in the near future because it finally has revenue to do so.

The MBTA's "Big Dig" debt"

The MBTA's "Big Dig" debt" was debt for transit mitigation required by the Big Dig. It was required because CLF threatened to stop the highway project if transit projects were not included as mitigation.

The majority of transit projects the MBTA agreed to in 1990 were ones that they had been planning on doing anyway(Old Colony, Worcester and Newburyport commuter rail, Silver Line Waterfront, etc)

Once again, a link to a 1994 article that gives a better idea of what was going on in 1990 when the mitigation was agreed to:

http://www.boston.com/news/traffic/bigdig/articles...

The once project the MBTA was "roped into" that they didn't want to do was reopen the Arborway line. CLF was big on that, not the T. Of course, the mitigation list as later changed to take Arborway out.

The two big unfinished projects from the original 1990 mitigation, Green Line to Somerville and Red/Blue connector, did not have to be completed until 2010. Back in 1990, the MBTA probably did feel it was possible to achieve that by 2010.

A telling quote from the 1994 article linked above:
"The largest mitigation deal of them all was an agreement with the Conservation Law Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group, wherein the state committed itself to a string of improvements to the MBTA system that are projected to cost $3.6 billion by the time of their scheduled completion in the year 2010. The $3.6 billion expense, which is not part of the $7.7 billion artery/tunnel project, will be shared between the state and federal governments in a ratio not yet determined."

They didn't know how the were going to pay for the transit mitigation at the time they signed for it, never mind 20 years down the line.

Get over it

Yes, these were all based on the CLF mitigation grab. But just because the MBTA may be designing plans doesn't mean it even has a timeline in place to accomplish them.

Plus the WHOLE POINT here is that in 1990 when it was designing/planning/hell, even desiring these projects to be done, it was STATE-FUNDED! If it needed money to do a project, it ultimately went to the state for it. The state is e one that agreed to these unfounded mandates as mitigation, but then got all up-in-arms over the MBTA bills each year so it said, "here! Live within these finite means...oh, and have all the bills WE ran up on you by agreeing to accomplish all of this stuff by 2010".

Since 2000, do you think the MBTA has been funded appropriately to cover the amount of debt given to it while continuing to provide full and functional service? If the answer is anything but "yes", then WHY the debt exists is purely academic today. If your answer is yes, you are a fool.

You stated: "Think of all of

You stated:
"Think of all of the great things the MBTA could have been doing for the past 10 years that it's been completely incapable of doing because it's been paying debt for a transit project that it got roped into and had little interest in."

If the MBTA did not sign off on a timeline for these projects as required by the CLF mitigation, they would have pursued most of them any way using FTA funds and local bonds. Many of the individual transit projects in the 1990 mitigation were already well into the design stage when the mitigation agreement was signed in 1990. Except for Arborway restoration, Green Line Somerville, and Red-Blue connector, the MBTA wasn't roped or twisted into anything for the majority of the projects. And remember, only a portion of the existing debt went for big dig transit mitigation projects to begin with. Much of it also went for new equipment purchased over the last 20 years, ADA requirements, facility improvements, etc. The MBTA has been living on debt to expand and improve for some time. I'm not disagreeing that a proper dedicated source for transit capital spending should have been identified decades ago, I do find it off putting that people want to make the false claim that the MBTA is paying for a highway project in order to build more sympathy to bail it out. Bail it out based on the on the legitimate importance of a properly funded transit system without hiding behind the false big dig boogeyman

All of it...plus some interest...

Because the T has had to forgo a bunch of maintenance and other work it would've been able to pay for if it hadn't had to make these bank payments for someone else.

So even if the T suddenly had this debt relieved from them *AND* was reimbursed for all of its prior payments, if you assume that they're operating in a vacuum, they're out the extra money in increased cost of repairs/service due to the inability to conduct them on-schedule.

(this is the part where we ask for the moon and get what we really wanted in the first place, not what is just and deserved)

Agreed, and then I got greedy

I want the MBTA to massively expand service. Once I saw how much revenue could be had, I found $545 million, which takes care of the operating deficit and leaves $384 million more. That would pay for the Green Line to Somerville extension in two years. Within five years it would pay for that and extensions on the Orange Line to West Roxbury and the first phase of the Blue Line to Lynn. In 10 years, Blue Line to Lynn would be done, the other end would be connected to Charles, and the Silver Line would be light rail.

And the crazy thing is, I didn't even do anything very radical. A 2 cent gas tax, a 10% fare increase, and a 10% increase in local assessment within the MBTA catchment, and some tinkering with inefficiencies is all it takes. We can do all of this expansion in ten years and could even get serious about the urban ring. And it wouldn't even be all that noticeable a burden to anybody involved in fudning it.

Can someone explain to me...

What was the logic for giving the T all that Big Dig debt?

Or wasn't there any logic - just a convenient scapegoat at the time?

That said - the T can be way more efficient and customer friendly - happened to be at Back Bay station in the ticket line on Feb 29th so the line was pretty long - maybe 15-20 people waiting mostly to buy their monthly passes I'm guessing. There were 6 T personnel in the booth - 2 were selling tix moving as fast as they could, one was in the info booth and had to answer a total of maybe one or two questions in 20 minutes and the other three were standing in the back of the booth with their arms folded laughing (at all the people standing in the long line I guess).

Scapegoat, plain and simple

It was a scapegoat. Then-governor Celluci had to appease western state sentiments that the Big Dig was draining the state dry with corruption and delays. He also had news stories about the MBTA stating that their annual bill to the state was a result of mismanagement and cost overruns across the entire organization. In one fell swoop, he bundled up the remaining cost of the Big Dig and lopped off the bill from the MBTA by forcing them to "forward fund" via the sales tax...oh, and that debt will be paid off because sales tax figures extrapolate to just keep going up for the next 10 years!

Also, what efficiency are you hinting that they could derive with your situation? Fine, you're right, those other three gold-brickers should be fired, right? Because you know exactly why they were there (just to get paid) and why they weren't working (maybe it wasn't their shift yet)...but let's assume you're right and they are completely superfluous and there will be no loss of efficiency on some other day or time or area of service (they may not have been sales reps, they could have been drivers on their breaks) because they are gone. And let's assume each of them costs $100k/yr in salary, benefits, etc. (probably less, but let's assume). Fire the three of them.

Done. You now have $160,700,000 left to make ends meet. Are you sure there are 1,607 other $100k employees left to make more "efficient"? My point is that this is no longer about employee efficiency. We are on a much larger scale than employee salary because the problem has NOTHING to do with employee costs or efficiencies but systemic problems with how the MBTA is funded. That's why the debt alone can turn the ENTIRE SYSTEM from a $160M loss per year to a $130M gain per year.

Thanks

I agree - the whole shell game with the debt is moronic. But let's be serious - reforms are still necessary - pensions, work rules and a host of other issues. We simply can't afford the waste in public service any more. I'm tired of hearing stories about how people can easily accomplish X tasks in a shift but they are told early on that they make everyone else look bad so only do X/2 tasks in any given shift or you might not like what happens to you.

Go to CVS, Walmart, Target, the bank etc. and when the line gets long everyone's cross trained so they can get called up to take care of customers. Saw a kid at CVS do it last night - and he had already punched out for the evening but saw his friend needed an extra open register - imagine your fate if you worked on the T or at the post office and tried something like that.

Don't use the system

I use a charlie card all the time because I take the T. But when I need a commuter rail ticket (usually for Rozzie Village maybe half dozen times a year) I just get in line. Can't say I've noticed the vending machines - perhaps if I saw them I was just thinking they were Charlie card machines - thanks - I'll look for them next time.

The Vending Machines

You can indeed use them for a single ride or round trip commuter rail ticket! And once you get the hang of them, it's very quick. I've gotten to the point where I can walk into the station about a minute before the train is meant to go, buy my new pass, and be downstairs before the conductor's close the doors.

Over-staffing

MBTA requires an engineer and a conductor per two passenger coaches on every commuter train. That's a lot of extra personnel. Really only need 1 engineer and 1 conductor -- or with modern equipment and practices, 1 engineer and roving fare inspectors.

Heh

having worked at Walmart in college, if you did that you'd get fired. If the manager was doing it, that's the stuff of lawsuits.

Working off the clock is strictly against most workplaces policies due to the huge fins and legal liabilities.

At least for hourly employees.

what about other revenue

what about other revenue sources? like non-alcoholic advertising revenue they have? there are so many stations and so many trains/buses/ferries for ad ops and yet this figure is not shown. is their marketing department slacking? this list is rather too narrow and not thinking outside of the box. and it is not complete on the expense side what about their current running cost? this covers only what they currently owe and not what they accumulate everyday

The simple solution is

The simple solution is clearly "give the debt back to the state" -- doing so with half of it eliminates nearly all of the deficit, and doing so with the entire amount leaves the MBTA with a significant budget surplus.

In the larger scheme of things, though, that debt should probably be paid off by raising the gas tax -- using the MAPC numbers it looks like a 10.5c/gal raise would be the right amount, which is significantly less than the 19c/gal proposed in the most recent failed attempt to raise the gas tax.

Yeah, except if you doubled

Yeah, except if you doubled the fares, only the people in Eastern MA would be paying for the T's debt, but if the State assumed the debt the people in Western MA would be paying for it too. Guess which solution will be more popular in the state senate.

And yet...

Even calculating that debt into what "they" have to pay...the money will still flow unevenly from east to west in the state.

It's called a social contract and the west will just have to get over it.