Signals flicker and die; Red Line riders just wanna cry

Crowded scene at Davis on the Red Line

Davis Square around 8 a.m. Photo by Kassie Ricci.

Around 8 a.m., Octr202 reported:

Red Line signals dead north of Harvard. Lovely 20 min wait near Porter. Must be a nice backup by now.

UPDATE, 9:22 a.m. Jason Lee reports:

1 hr 15 min commute today covering the extensive distance of 3.2 miles. Impressive.

Didn't this also happen yesterday?
Yes, yes it did.

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Well, that's one idea. But

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Well, that's one idea. But given the limited network of public transit, it'd be of limited efficacy.

You want irony? This morning brought the unveiling of the 'Life Sciences Corridor,' complete with a snazzy logo based on - wait for it - the Red Line!

Boston, Cambridge, Quincy, Somerville and Braintree are partnering to try to spread the wealth of Cambridge's life sciences industry up and down the corridor. The whole concept (and it's a good one!) is pinned to the idea that the Red Line connects and unites these communities, allowing businesses to house their operations anywhere along its route and still gain access to all the beneficial network effects of proximity to other firms and researchers in the industry.

There's just one little problem with this idea. THE RED LINE IS BROKEN. The biotech industry is a giant spigot of cash filling the state coffers. It brings in federal and foundation funding. Employs 55,000 workers, paying them $6.5 billion. Its health and expansion is now explicitly tied to the viability of the Red Line. And every morning, Adam has to come up with another terrible rhyme to explain just how awful the Red Line is.

It's not rocket science. We know precisely what the Red Line needs. We just can't seem to persuade legislators from suburbia, much less from central and western Massachusetts, that they need to invest in mass transit in the Boston area if they want to continue to benefit from all the revenues that it produces. They'd rather pocket the cash, and leave the tab unpaid.

Sigh.

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I agree with most of this, but the problem is broader.

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However, I am not willing to put all of the blame at the feet of the whole suburban/exurban/WMass delegation (I know that Rosenberg of Amherst is an outspoken critic, but for reasons below, I'm not sure it matters).

All that we have been hearing about of late is the concentration of power in a few people in the Legislature; that public debate has been crowded out by private backroom deal making; that the leadership controls everything that happens (and what doesn't) with an iron fist.

We should use this to our advantage and just relentlessly pursue those apparently few people who are in control and make their lives miserable until they appropriate the necessary funds to fix the problem.

Incidentally (and this is where the thread gets highjacked) the notion that states might get the right to toll interstates (an old idea which apparently suddenly has new life because of the Highway Trust Fund debacle in DC) could be a game changer around here. It could lead to a significant reallocation of transportation subsidies amongst the various modes. It could get very, very interesting (if for no other reason than big Markk will be chiming in left and right!).

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Good up until the funding part

MBTA communities are the ones benefiting more from bio jobs in Boston and Cambridge. Lee Mass isn't a winner unless CEOs have a second home in the Berkshires. People not served by the MBTA already pay for the MBTA in sales taxes, RMV fees, and vehicle inspection fees. The latter two are scheduled to go up this summer. They pay more than enough and will put up a fight.

So, how to do it? Make MBTA city and town assessments more fair and larger. After fares and STATE-WIDE sales tax, city and town assessments are next largest revenue source. Cambridge, Quincy, and Somerville each need to have higher payments to the MBTA. There is a weighting system described here (see section 1 for identification of what towns are in what group): https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXXII/Chapter161A/S...

So, per capita, Quincy pays 1/3 as much as Arlington, even though Arlington only has 12 bus lines, while Quincy has 15 bus lines, 4 Red Line stops, 3 MBTA parking garages, and a commuter rail stop. Despite Quincy's much greater population and service than Arlington, it pays less to the MBTA (under $2M)!

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I just want to push back on

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I just want to push back on this, because I think it's important.

Debates over the MBTA generally get framed in terms of its direct costs. So, yes, it's true - taxpayers all over the state contribute to the MBTA, even if they're not riding it. And that's why we get proposals asking communities served by the MBTA to contribute at higher rates.

Here's what this misses. There are all kinds of services and infrastructure in the state budget that my tax dollars help support, but from which I derive no immediate or direct benefit. That's how the system works. The catch is that the things people in central and western Massachusetts help subsidize that are used by people along the Red Line - like the MBTA - are dwarfed by the things that people along the Red Line subsidize for those in the rest of the state.

To get a good picture of the budget, what you'd want to do is to add up all the revenues flowing to the state from each city or town, and then subtract all the state level expenditures. There are good reports that do this already for federal spending, which show that Massachusetts pays roughly $80 billion in, and receives a little less than $60 billion in return. The broad national pattern is that denser, affluent, urban areas generate revenue, and rural areas and decaying industrial towns soak it up. And that holds true for Massachusetts, too.

When the state distributes local aid, it gives more on a per capita basis to communities where property values are low than where they're high. It's an enormous and deliberate transfer of wealth from the Boston metro area to the rest of the state. The same holds true for a broad array of other services, most notably health and education spending, which account for the majority of the state budget. Communities like Cambridge and Boston generate enormous amounts of wealth, and the state distributes it to all the struggling cities and towns that never made the economic transition from agriculture or industry to knowledge or technology. And you know what? That's fine. Those who are benefiting from the present configuration of the economy ought to be paying to help those who've been left behind catch up.

But I lose my cool when instead of being grateful for the fact that the Boston metro area is subsidizing everything they like about their communities, legislators and officials from central and western Massachusetts start whining about how the state is taking their taxes to subsidize things near Boston that they don't use. Because they're trying to kill the goose that's laying their golden eggs. The MBTA is an enormous engine of wealth. It makes the key industries of eastern Massachusetts globally competitive, by connecting workers with jobs. That, in turn, provides all the revenues that support the rest of the state. In a rational political system, we'd be lavishing state subsidies on the MBTA and rapidly expanding its network of subways and railroads, to ensure that this economic growth continues, so that the resultant wealth can be invested throughout the state. It's the closest thing we've got to a guaranteed return.

Instead, we have a chorus of myopic lawmakers, complaining that their fees pay for services they don't use. The value of the MBTA doesn't lie in your taking a ride on the Red Line. It's that hundreds of thousands of other Massachusetts resident use it each day, working in the industries that power our economy. For every dollar the state plows into mass transit, it receives many back in return in higher revenues. But they don't come in at the turnstile gates; they come in sales taxes, income taxes, and business taxes. And so they don't get counted. The MBTA more than pays its own way in this state. The trouble is that the dollars it generates get added to the general fund, pocketed by communities elsewhere in the state, and then those communities have the temerity to turn around and complain that the state is subsidizing the T.

And me? I'm tired of it.

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Many non-service communities already paying MBTA assessments

You completely missed my point that MBTA city and town assessments are unfair and have needed revision for many years. This is for communities served by the MBTA. Another unfairness issue is parking for people taking the MBTA. Somerville and Brookline have meters so people leaving their cars to take public transit have to pay to park, just as they would if at a MBTA parking lot. Other areas like Arlington give away free parking to people who then get on a T bus or train, with no compensation to the town.

If you look at the lowest tier towns in the MBTA ("other served communities"), many have no service within that town. Instead, residents have to drive 5 or more miles to another town with a commuter rail stop and then also pay for parking. Residents in these outlying towns get some benefit from the MBTA and jobs in Boston and Cambridge, but more people are apt to work at tech jobs on the I-495 belt, I-95, or Route 1 areas (notice how development grows around roads, not rail as in the 1800's?)

My point is that communities with some transportation benefit from the MBTA are already paying for it. I'm glad you understand that transportation is vital and policies to remove lane miles and parking spaces are thus stupid and hurt our economy.

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Adam's rhymes are funny, not terrible.

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Lest the hub of Universal Hub feel forsaken (I'm sure he doesn't though) let's acknowledge that the puns and rhymes are one good thing that come out of the miseries of the T.

I think that there are Batman puns for the T as well: T means Terrible. The T is a Tisaster, etc.

Kindly start throwing eggs, tomatoes and assorted objects at annoying punsters.

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Agreed

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I love Adam's train rhymes. Thanks, Adam.

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"severe delays"

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Saw the dreaded severe delays. Needless to say, uber is my friend right now.

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I was on one yesterday

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..that made strange metal slapping noises. It was around 1p or so as I switched from a Riverside at Park heading for Central.

It was like it had it's own giant percussion device as accompaniment to the usual treble screaming of wheels on rails when it takes curves.

I was thinking of going up to Alewife at 5:30a this morning to catch more of peak bird migration. I'm glad I punted.

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Tolerance levels

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must be very high for these poor folks to suffer day after day! Or just plain insanity that you head to the station every morning thinking that this day will be different. The Red line has been shite for ever!

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Money ain't everything

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I took a job for less money just so I could walk to work and avoid the T. Took the T for years, ain't worth the daily headache.

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Ride a bike

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3.2 miles? 20 minutes.

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Not always an option

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For instance, today I'd like to drop off my bike for repairs, then take the T back home.

(Good rain gear, a bike trailer, and being sound of body makes it a good option for almost any other Boston area trip, but when you need repairs...)

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I don't understand

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If the signals aren't working, just have the motorman drive the train slower and everything should be fine. Or am I missing something?

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I left Green Street station

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I left Green Street station at 8:06 this morning in JP and arrived in Central Square on the red line at 8:46. The conductors kept everyone apprised of the situation regularly. The trains were kind of full. It is a terrible thing that machinery breaks and it shouldn't be that way. It would be great if we quit building new roads and put everything we could into public transportation. That hasn't happened yet. Until it does, I think the T is doing the best it can.

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Money has to come from some

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Money has to come from some place or other. I would like it to come partly from a moratorium on building more automobile infrastructure, including new roads.

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In particular ...

Roadwork in Central and Western MA.

At least until their elected representatives stop mouthing off about "subsidizing Boston" by funding the MBTA when, in fact, taxes collected in Eastern Massachusetts subsidize their constituents.

It is simply far more expensive to build and maintain roadways that serve a handful of widely scattered people than it is to build public transit systems that serve thousands of people.

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see my comment on subsidies above; bike commuting

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see my comment on subsidies above

Also, Swirly, I appreciate your numerous plugs for bike commuting this week on occasion of Bay State Bike Week. I have to ask though, what do you think the biggest impediment for people biking to work is? I can tell you why I have and haven't:

I started biking to work when I got a job where there were reasonably good facilities to shower and a place to store my clothes. Without both of these, it was simply not feasible.

I stopped biking to work when I had a little one who needed to be in daycare. For the record, I am an avid cyclist, and I am reasonably good at handling my bike. We have a wonderful Burley Encore trailer (that we use as a pulk for XC-skiing, too!). The problem is that it is just not safe enough out there for me to have my child in the trailer through the urban parts of my commute. People apparently have a hard time seeing me notwithstanding the fact that I am well over 6' tall and covered in high visibility clothing. They throw open doors of parked cars right after I pass (if I'm lucky). These idiots would see me pass and would not even see the trailer (in spite of the 6' high bright orange flag). Unfortunately, an on-the-bike seat won't work because we have to bring too much crap to daycare.

That's my story. So what do you think the biggest reasons for not bike commuting are?

Incidentally, for those interested, it's also Infrastructure Week.

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Re: So what do you think the biggest reasons for not bike commut

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My reason is that of some other people, I simply cannot ride a bike, period. There are many people who just plain are not able to. Usually this is because of disabilities where the gross motor skills are bad enough that the person is unable to maintain the proper balance.

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That's an excellent reason.

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I should have refined my original question a little more, e.g., "why do you think it is that people who are otherwise physically able to bike commute do not do so?"

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My answer

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If it's going to take 90 minutes to get from my front door to my desk at work (and that's an estimate - might be a little high on the bike side based on how out-of-shape I am and might be a little high on the MBTA side based on...well, it's the MBTA), I'd frankly not spend the 90 minutes huffing and puffing up hills, fearing for my life, then having to reassemble myself, shower, and change. I'd rather take the T, keep my sweating down to a minimum, have a book or an iPod, and suffer the occasional delay.

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I don't think there is a single reason

That may be part of the problem. No single "big target" to aim at.

Physical inability is certainly involved. That may be surmountable for some in places with adequate infrastructure, however. Neither my aunt nor my cousin can balance a bike but they do rather well with their Torker tricycles because they live in Portland and the bike lanes are wide enough to accommodate them. The trikes also haul large bags of cat litter and dog chow and other large items that would be tricky if walking or on the bus. But if you physically can't pedal, you can't. Louie is inspiring, but a special case.

Perceived hazard is certainly a big deterrent. So is inclement weather. I didn't ride much this winter because cold air triggers my asthma (and the ice didn't go away).

Distance to workplace matters, too. That's where multimodal commuting helps (e.g. bike path to Alewife). I have coworkers who have split the difference by biking to the commuter rail station - and saved themselves considerable money on parking or even having a car. But, if you can't get to transit, and live 30 miles from work, it really isn't a workable mode.

Not having shower facilities sucks, and for some that is a deal breaker for longer commutes (I worked a couple of places that didn't have showers and I had a system for washing up, but washing hair was an issue in the summer).

Also, it does take some time to find better routes through areas - I have long been willing to take longer routes if it meant less hassle and traffic. When people think about bike commuting, they sometimes get put off by conditions on major roadways and don't realize that a route on neighborhood streets that would be annoying in a car is perfect for a cyclist.

Finally, riding in the city can be a major pain in the ass. It is far more reliable than pretty much any other mode, but still not pleasant sometimes. I get fed up with it from time to time, and either ride as far as Kendall or just carpool into the city. I find that crappy roads also beat me up after a while, now that I'm older, and I'd rather get up at the ass crack of dawn and fly out to Bedford and back on my road bike before work instead. I can sometimes do that ride without putting my foot down for nearly two hours.

We did manage to do most daycare drops with kids using the bike, and the one big advantage of our daycare Burley drop was leaving the trailer for the other parent to retrieve at pick up. But we found light traffic roads to pilot it down for the most part - not everyone can do that. I don't think I ever had a problem with people not seeing it, either, but they were still pretty novel in 1997.

So, yes, there are a lot of reasons people don't bike. The reasons to bike are becoming more compelling for a lot of people, though, and numbers mean changes. Even so, we need to better support alternatives to car use in all their forms and combinations - walking, biking, transit - if we want a healthier society. Cycling but one piece of that picture.

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I so sympathize with that.

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Hampshire street is outside my window and I cringe when I see parents trying to do toddler pedicab runs at rush hour.

Biking as a commute works best when you are young and vigorous and ready to emulate a fighter pilot.

There is just too much lethal fat metal and some of it is piloted by truck drivers who only want to beat the system at any cost because their employers suck.

Park in a bus stop.. no problem.. gotta get those cases of beer, to Ole dammit.

(I have a shot of that)

Double park on a crowded Sunday brunch clusterfuck and shove your ramp on the bike lane.

Can do.

S and S must have eggs. And take your time, it's only bikes.

(Have shots of that too)

You have white knuckle commuters from siberia suburbs who aren't familiar with the ways of bike lanes but gotta get to InsuranceCo for the 9 to 5 and any shortcut they can dream up is fair game.

Then throw in befuddled immigrants from every driving culture on the planet uneasily trying to work ours while making bank on the cab medallion that cost them as much as a village back home.

How about an unusual concentration of ditzy kids from everywhere who are lost on Storrow?

Drivng is awful but the alternatives are a handful short of walking like Sam Adams did and that isn't too handy when you have deadlines to meet.

Fixing the looted basket case rapid transit system is critical in tandem with using all abandoned ROW's toward a coherent mini infrastructure for bicycles that reduces exposure to roads.

I was in Wellesley yesterday finishing up my video clips of the Charles River Link Trail.

It uses the old Sudbury Aqueduct very well. The town is has a superb trail system.

http://www.wellesleyma.gov/Pages/WellesleyMA_Trails/index

I walked the Brook Path back to the center from Waban Arches and only had a few road crossings before Grove street. It isn't paved but works for bikes, dog walkers, joggers and so on.

Scaling it to a Boston size would rock as the great complement to a public transit system that isn't limping along hand to mouth, day to day.

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The paths are best part about Swellesley.

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although I have to say, I do not think that they are particularly well suited for commuting-type (e.g. relatively higher speed) riding.

btw, have you posted your videos somewhere?

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They aren't yet

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.. but as an infrastructure model they are pretty good.

I've done nearly 500 reference videos of trails on you tube. they are simple hand held camera things focused on the actual trail with me as a disembodied voice and lots of still photo sequences.

A you tube search of "Charles River Link Trail" will get you to my channel

I would be the last to claim they have any notable pro quality but you will have a sense of the places.

I may have the entire Charles River Link Trail System from Fyffe Footbridge in Newton Lower Falls to the old Medfield State Hospital Grounds, (the open space parts) done by tomorrow for the raw material and I should have em mixed down in a month.

I aim to make material on all the 'spoke trails' in existence, underway or being planned from Borders To Boston connecting the North Shore Coast to the Warner/Neponset corridor. that connects to Providence.

There isn't much of a coherent overview of all that is going on and the trail makers aren't necessarily well versed in how to use Web 2.0

The Minuteman is probably the standard to generally adopt and there is a lot of rock dust surface systems underway due to lower cost per mile.

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So, you would not consider Worcester

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in Central Mass, then? And how about Springfield? I think your analysis of roads that only serve "a handful of widely scattered people" is a bit off. Actually, way off.

Aside from that strange logic, one could argue, in general, that the western part of the state has a smaller roadwork as compared to the more congested east (I am thinking Berkshires here) but the folks out there should not be pawns to be used in a game of who has the funding. Folks in Central and Western Mass have a right to a well maintained road work, just like you and I.

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Mostly taking a shot at asshat legislators

... the ones FROM central MA and western MA who have REPEATEDLY brayed and whinnnied and bleated about "we can't give the T more money because that is subsidizing Boston".

These assholes need a taste of their own medicine, STAT. They need to learn exactly who is subsidizing their constituents - and pay the price for that.

You have no right to a "well maintained road network" that you don't pay for, or that you pay for by REPEATEDLY screwing over the people who DO pay for it.

They started it. They should have to enjoy the blowback pothole by pothole. Got that?

If they don't like it, they can take their asshole representatives out of office and stop screwing over the rest of us. I'm tired of subsidizing their driving, if that is their attitude about my transit that their elected idiots deliberately underfund relative to the tax base.

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Funny logic

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In that case, why don't we stop subsidizing 'teh poor?' Following your logic, they're not paying for anything, why are we subsidizing their food/housing/wallets?

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it's not just about commuters

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Roadbuilding is not just about commuters. Yes, there needs to be a ton of more money put into public and rapid transit, but roads serve a more important purpose. The interstate system and the like were not put in place for people like you and me, they are primarily for shipping and other economic activity. An 18-wheeler can't use a bike lane lane, and freight rail doesn't go to every community. Pulling spending away from roads is very short sighted, considering cars are still the primary mode of transportation. Punishing business and drivers isn't gonna help anyone.

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You miss the point by a mile

I'm saying that IF a certain group of people keep electing jerks who call funding the T a subsidy, perhaps we need to teach them exactly who is being subsidized here.

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Cambridge gets too much road maintenance money

The state formula for giving out road maintenance money ("Chapter 90 funds") is based mostly on miles of roads, then an equal split between population and jobs in a place. Rural areas have fewer miles of road because they have fewer residences on fewer streets. Cities with small building lots have more streets and thus get more money even when most of those residential streets have low traffic volumes.

Now, consider Cambridge, which via zoning forces employers to have less parking and subsidize T passes. Cambridge still gets the Chapter 90 road funding for lesser used roads and jobs gotten to via the MBTA, and then doesn't have to give any to the MBTA who is actually offloading the road demand. True, buses put more wear and tear on roads, but all the Red Line and Green Line subway traffic doesn't.

What is the cure? Change chapter 90 payouts to be based on road miles, registered vehicles, and employee parking spaces. That way small towns won't keep getting screwed by cities like Cambridge.

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How much money does Cambridge generate?

And how much does it get back?

How much state revenue does each of those thousands of jobs contribute?

Small towns don't generate nearly the revenue that eastern MA cities do. They don't have nearly the population, either.

If people need roads to get long distances, but don't pay very much in taxes, then their state senators should shut their traps about "subsidizing cities". Because they are bigger takers than contributors.

(although I agree that the "highway/roadway" and "transit" dichotomy has to end, and cities need to do more for transit - like clean out the bus stops and share transport revenue)

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What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

You have not made an argument why Cambridge needs excess road maintenance money. Waltham, Lexington, Woburn, Burlington, Quincy, Hopkington, Marlboro etc. all have lots of jobs too. The difference is they don't push transportation burden on the MBTA while pocketing excess roadway funds. Its only communities like Cambridge with anti-car zoning policies that give them less need for roadway money and thus should fairly give some to more needy communities or give their share to the MBTA.

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WTF is wrong with the turnstiles at Park St?

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My charlie card wouldn't work at any of them, inbound or outbound. Said my card had no funds. It's a monthly pass. Same thing happened at South Station a gew weeks aho and the MBTA guy who hangs out there had a attitude about letting me go through. Same thing happened last week at Charles St, too.

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