2019 – Greater Boston’s MBTA <u>STILL</u> in Shambles

2019 – Greater Boston’s MBTA STILL in Shambles

© David Burton 2019

Recent MBTA Train Derailment

NOW - 20 July 2019

     It’s July of 2019, some 6 years after I first railed against the deplorable state of Greater Boston’s public mass transportation system, the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) or “T” for short.[1] Over these past half-dozen years, much was promised, but as we now see, little to nothing has been accomplished to correct the MBTA’s plethora of problems. Here are some reported facts.

     “Amid a national uptick in transit train derailments, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has steadily amassed one of the nation’s worst safety records. [Emphasis mine]
     “MBTA trains derailed 43 times over the last five years, the second-highest total of any metro transit system in the country, federal records show. Only the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, with 72 derailments on a smaller system of streetcars, logged a worse record.
     “The federal statistics do not include the MBTA’s Green Line derailment on Saturday, which injured 11 people, or Tuesday’s {11 June 2019} Red Line derailment, which caused massive gridlock across the city.”
      - - -
     “The T tallied 13 derailments in 2018, 10 in 2017, and 8 in 2016. [Emphasis Mine]
     “Among the country’s largest public transit systems — those in which trains traveled at least 1 million revenue miles — the MBTA had the sixth-highest rate of derailments from 2014 through 2018. Each of those systems — including San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Cleveland — was smaller than Boston, according to Federal Transit Administration data.
      - - -
     “The derailment on the Red Line was the fifth this year, putting the T on pace for the most in a decade, according to the agency’s own records.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 2)

     The MBTA’s woes are not new and have been recognized for many years. Amazingly, little to nothing has actually been done to correct the system’s ongoing problems.

     “Public transportation in the Boston area is increasingly unsafe for both its workers and riders. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operates under an unelected Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) whose highest priority is privatization and a funding structure that sucks more than $400 million of debt service per year out of its operating budget.
     “The record snowfall of February 2015 shut down the entire MBTA multiple times. Three years later the system {was} still in crisis, not because of weather—which in fact has been relatively dry and unseasonably warm—but because of inadequate infrastructure funding . . .
     “{In 2018} the last car of a six-car Red Line subway train derailed underground when its motor failed. . .
     “While no injuries were reported, service . . . was not restored for eight hours, and commutes were delayed by as much as 90 minutes as hundreds of riders had to wait outside in the streets for shuttle buses.
     “The subway cars were at least 30 years old. Fifty-eight of the UTDC 1700 series cars on the Red Line were built in the late 1980s. Seventy Pullman-Standard 1500 and 1600 cars, built in the late 1960s, are still in use on the line. . .
     “Less than a week before the nightmare ride . . . the doors of another Red Line train were stuck shut for four stops . . . during the morning commute, with riders trapped inside. The emergency intercom did not work—frightened passengers had to call the Transit Police on a cellphone—and two people were needed to pull the emergency brake after it, too, stuck.
     “The Green Line . . . is also in dangerous disrepair. . . a report, commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Transportation Oversight Division, on the condition of Green Line tracks, which total nearly 46 miles. . . found that ‘by having only the minimal amount of resources available, Track Management is not able to address problems until they reach ‘red level.’ More than 2,000 defects in track geometry existed as of February 2017, and the inspectors found rotten ties, corroded or cracked rails, and ‘shelves’ worn into the rails by trolley wheels. Surface deviations in the track were as deep as 2.5 inches in places.
     “Even when infrastructure failures are less severe, they worsen the commutes of the hundreds of thousands of riders who take the ‘T’ to work. The Boston Herald has found that in the less than two months since the beginning of the year, ‘the MBTA has sent out at least 275 tweets about delays caused by issues with trains, signals or switches.’ [Emphasis mine] “ (Ref. 3)

     “If you’ve lived in Boston for at least a year, then you’ve experienced some version of this before. Each time the MBTA suffers an implosion of service — whether the root cause is a derailment, a signal problem or (my favorite) a smoke-filled train — our city transforms into a ‘Mad Max’ action set piece. It’s every commuter for themselves as we cram into shuttles, blow our rent and grocery money on Ubers, and pray that our bosses will understand, again, why we were late.
      - - -
     “But nothing changes. . . we convince ourselves that somehow, the commute will be better tomorrow — that the MBTA won’t break down again, despite decades of insufficient funding from the state, awful leadership appointments and a Legislature that refuses to take Boston’s transit crisis seriously. [Emphasis mine]
     “{Since the T’s disasters during the} winter of 2015 {there was no} turnover of leadership in the State House, or notable improvements of MBTA service. Quite the opposite. Legislators who’ve undermined efforts to fix the MBTA . . . got re-elected. Commuter rail services cuts were pursued. The cost of riding the MBTA kept going up, despite the system’s worsening reliability . . .” (Ref. 4)

Four Years Ago - 6 July 2015 - Ref. 1

     Massive breakdowns plagued the Boston-area MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) transit system during severe snow storms during the winter of 2015. The winter’s transit system failures were the culmination of years of problems with the area’s transit system, commonly referred to as the “T”. The T’s problems have been caused by poor management, self-serving public labor unions, and politicians unwilling to face up to the T’s problems and take the necessary actions to redress its ongoing troubles.

      - - -

     Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts who was elected in 2014, submitted a plan to the Democratically controlled Massachusetts legislature to reform the troubled MBTA. As usual here in Massachusetts, this much needed reform plan is being strongly opposed by organized labor and by many of the Democratic legislators who are beholden to these unions for campaign funds and supporters.

     “Facing opposition from key Senate Democrats, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker again appealed to the Legislature to support key elements of his proposed overhaul of the struggling Boston-area transit system, warning that ‘marginal changes’ would do little to improve it.
     “In a letter to House and Senate members released by the administration Friday, Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito urged lawmakers to embrace his call for a financial control board to oversee the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for the next three to five years, and other reforms including an exemption for the T from the restraints of the state’s anti-privatization law.
     “Baker filed his plan last month {April 2015} following recommendations from a task force that found a ‘pervasive organizational failure’ of the agency. The governor asked for the review after massive breakdowns on the transit system during a winter of record-setting snow.
     “ ‘This past winter, the MBTA failed a stress test. But the problems that contributed to its collapse were not new, and were not caused by the winter weather,’ Baker wrote in the letter to legislators.
     “ ‘Taken alone, marginal changes to the oversight of the current MBTA organization will produce little or no meaningful improvement for the riders and employees of the MBTA, and will all but ensure that the MBTA continues to struggle to meet its basic mission of providing reliable public transit service for the people of Massachusetts,’ he added.
      - - -
     “But Senate leaders balked at creating a separate control board . . .” (Ref. 5)

     As one Boston journalist wrote, “If there is one thing that the mismanaged, debt-ridden MBTA needs right now it is discipline – not mush. And yet mush is what the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation appears to be offering.
      - - -
     “The committee has produced a redraft of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reform proposal, but it left out the most meaningful reforms.
     “The fiscal management and control board that Baker wants to appoint to focus intensely on fixing the T is, in the committees version, neither independent nor does it have adequate control. [Emphasis mine]
     “There is no relief from the state’s burdensome anti-privatization law . . .
      - - -
     “And lawmakers in their bill have bowed to union demands that arbitration awards for transit workers never be subject to funding approval, as they are for other public employee unions.
      - - -
     “. . . He {Governor Baker} stressed the need for a ‘full toolbox’ to fix the T to the satisfaction of riders and taxpayers, who contribute more than $1 billion to the system every year.
     “The fact is too often lost on lawmakers who seem to think the agency exists for the benefit of the 6,000 members of the Carmen’s Union, which returns the pols’ usual favor with contributions from its political action committee.” (Ref. 6)

     Leading the fight to retain the status quo of the failed MBTA system are the public employee unions. “The powerful Boston Carmen’s Union, in a bid to derail Gov. Charlie Baker’s MBTA reforms, has spent $300,000 on radio ads, organized campaign-style phone banks and poured thousands into the political coffers of key lawmakers and politicians overseeing T policy, a {Boston} Herald review found.
     “The review shows the 6,000-member-strong labor group’s mounting resistance as a top legislative committee has rebuffed Baker’s key reforms
      - - -
     “The Amalgamated Transit Union – a group representing transit workers in the U.S. and Canada – has also been flooding radio airwaves and other media with imagery of attacking sharks in an attempt to mock Baker’s proposal to suspend the so-called Pacheko Law. The law throws up huge barriers for state agencies looking to outsource certain services – including much-needed repairs {to MBTA equipment}.
      - - -
     “The Carmen’s PAC has also handed out more than $11,000 in political donations to state politicians since Baker announced his T reform proposals on April 8.
      - - -
     “The Herald review comes as the Transportation Committee released a version of MBTA reform legislation yesterday that stripped Baker’s bill of proposals to require board approval for arbitration, create a fiscal control panel reporting to {the} state transportation secretary and temporarily halt the Pacheko law.
      - - -
     “The carmen have been railing against Baker for months amid a groundswell for reform after a system-wide collapse last winter. In April the Herald reported that long before the T came to a grinding halt last winter, absent employees were responsible for most of the 39,937 ‘missed trips’ in 2014 on the MBTA’s 178 bus routes.” (Ref. 7)

     In April, unionized MBTA employees packed a Statehouse hearing room as state transportation officials and members of a review panel appointed by Governor Baker outlined recommendations for shaking up the troubled Boston-area transit system. The workers were opposing changes in work rules or an easing of anti-privatization laws proposed by Baker.[8]

     Ratcheting up their fight against recommended changes to the operation and management of the T, “The powerful Boston Carmen’s Union – making a last stand to defeat T reform as Beacon Hill lawmakers hammered out a final budget bill – launched a new campaign yesterday {June 30, 2015} aimed at pressuring House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo through social media, leaflets and lobbying meetings.
      - - -
     “. . . {T}he Amalgamated Transit Union – the carmen’s parent union – paid to print 10,000 of the leaflets, which rail against the proposal to temporarily suspend the so-called Pacheko law at the MBTA. The law throws up huge barriers for state agencies looking to outsource certain services – including much-needed repairs.” (Ref. 9)

     The Massachusetts public has expressed its outrage at this past winter’s failure of the MBTA. Only time will tell if this outrage will result in meaningful reforms to the system. So far, the responses from the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic legislature and the public employee unions have not been encouraging.

Six Years Ago - 15 August 2013 - Ref. 10

     . . . another reason for the high cost of operating the T emerged into public view – the cost of early retirement coupled with generous retirement payouts along with the cost of nepotism and political favoritism in the system. These abuses are described in what follows.

Bloated T Retirement Benefits

     “The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Thursday {8 August 2013} released a list of nearly 6,400 names, many of whom are receiving pensions as a vestige of a program that allowed employees to start collecting pensions after 23 years of service, no matter their age. That long-criticized system has {only recently} been abolished and replaced by a program that allows employees to retire with a pension at age 55 with 25 years of service.
     “The T's $1.77 billion retirement fund has long resisted making the information public, saying it is a private trust, but a transportation finance bill passed in July {of 2013} required that the information be released. [Emphasis mine]
     “Calls for release of the information increased as taxpayers have been forced provide more to cover T pensions.” (Ref. 11)

    It turns out that the “MBTA Retirement Fund has more pensioners scooping up payouts than active workers paying into it.” (Ref. 12)

    In addition, “more than half of the 6,300-plus people receiving pensions from the T retired before the age of 60, and 35 percent – or 2,240 – left before 55. . . . By comparison, the T has {only} roughly 6,200 active employees.
      - - -
     “Meanwhile, taxpayer payments to the fund have soared in recent years, topping out at $56.3 million last fiscal year, up from $30 million in fiscal 2007.
      - - -
     “With more people living to 85, or 90, they’re going to get a benefit twice as long as they worked. . . . There’s no question that this exceedingly generous benefit is one of the factors in the T’s financial problems.” (Ref. 12)

      - - -

Cronyism on the T

     In addition to providing generous pensions to retirees well before normal retirement age, the T is also a haven for friends and relatives of well-positioned politicians. William "Billy" Bulger was the Democratic President of the Massachusetts Senate. He later served as president of the University of Massachusetts. Patrick Bulger, one of William Bulger’s sons, “retired from the T in 2007 at age 43 – remember, they only had to work 23 years to go out with the full boat. He now collects $55,546.42 a year.
      - - -
     “{Double dipping is common among many of the T’s retirees.} Jim Rooney . . . took a small pay cut at the MCCA (Massachusetts Convention Center Authority} from his $357,000 salary. Of course, he had a little something extra to keep him warm – his T pension of $62,541.24.
     “He started collecting it in 1991, at age 41.
     “This is the tip of the iceberg. . . . “ (Ref. 13)

      - - -

Cost-cutting and Bill-paying for Massachusetts Transportation

     Transportation costs in Massachusetts are astronomically high and growing at an alarming rate. The state is struggling to find additional revenue sources to meet these rising costs. Some claim that a large part of the reason for these high transportation costs in Massachusetts is a result of the high costs of operating the greater Boston MBTA public transit system. That may be true. It’s a fact that “spending on the MBTA has risen twice as fast as the rate of inflation, and MBTA employees earn far more for the same work than their counterparts in the private sector.” (Ref. 14)

      - - -

     For whatever reason, and, realistically, there are several reasons for the state’s problems, there has been a major push-back to the ongoing clamor for more and more money being thrown at the problem without a serious attempt to address the underlying causes. This has even led to an open conflict between the Democratic leadership in Massachusetts’ House and Senate with the state’s Democratic governor. Public revulsion at the prospects of still more taxes to pay for the state’s increasing transportation costs was expressed in a Boston newspaper as follows:

     “We spend more than almost anyone else, we raise spending year after year and the only solution Massachusetts Democrats can come up with is ‘more taxes, more spending?” (Ref. 15)

     Over the years, there has been lip service paid to coming up with reforms to control the high transportation costs. “Transportation reform . . . sought to address {one} of the transportation system’s major cost drivers: labor costs, including expenses from health care and other employee benefits, especially at the MBTA. Despite some results, such as moving MBTA workers into the insurance plan covering state employees, wages and benefits remain the transit system’s biggest cost. However, collective bargaining rules and a process by which arbitration often reverses MBTA efforts to reduce costs limit the agency’s ability to further control health care and pension costs.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 16) Such is the result of the unholy alliance between the public employees’ unions and the state’s Democratic politicians.

      - - -

MBTA and Regional Transit Authorities
  • Operating costs are not controlled, and the MBTA has not come close to meeting the 2000 Finance Plan goal of limiting growth of operating costs to 2.5% per year. Actual growth has been 5% per year. The main culprits? MBTA retirement benefits (pensions and health care). Retirees account for about one-half of the MBTA's health care costs, and two-thirds of the retirees are under 65 (not eligible for Medicare).
  • Sales tax revenue is inadequate: the 2000 Finance Plan assumed a conservative growth in sales tax—3% per year—but this has not happened. Since 20% of sales tax revenue goes to the MBTA, this lack of growth is a problem.
  • Debt burden is 25% of MBTA expenses. At $328 million (FY06), this is more than the MBTA took in in fares in 2006.
  • State of Good Repair—defined as capital assets functioning at intended capacity within their design life—cannot be achieved because the MBTA has not generated a surplus (est. $67 million in FY07) to fund improvements.
  • The 15 Regional Transit Authorities routinely borrow to pay operating expenses.
(Ref. 17)
Six Years Ago - 2 July 2013 - Ref. 18

     Here in Massachusetts, Unions and the Democratic Party are joined at the hip. Democratic politicians in the state make sure that their union supporters are taken care of legislatively, while the unions funnel their financial support back to the Democratic politicians, campaign for them, and get out the vote for them. Everyone makes out, everyone, that is except the poor slobs who end up paying the bills - the citizens of Massachusetts who pay higher taxes, higher than necessary public transportation costs, and higher insurance and health care costs.

     The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, often referred to as the MBTA or The T, is the public operator of most bus, subway, commuter rail, and ferry routes in the greater Boston area. The T is officially a "body politic and corporate, and a political subdivision" of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its immediate predecessor, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), was immortalized by The Kingston Trio in the popular folk-protest lament "Get Poor Charlie off the M.T.A." In 2008, the system was the fourth busiest subway system in the United States.[19]

     These days, the T is reported to be “wildly overpaying for basic maintenance service”.[20] A report by the Pioneer Institute states that the per-mile bus maintenance costs at the MBTA are almost twice as much as the average of all other bus transit agencies in the United States that operate more than 100 buses.[20]

     “Nationally, the MBTA ranks fourth in per-mile maintenance costs and second in staffing levels at garages.” (Ref. 20)

     With all this extra money being spent on maintenance, the commuting public in Massachusetts must be getting more reliable service with fewer equipment breakdowns than the other major transit systems in the U.S. But are they?

     The Pioneer report goes on to tell us that the MBTA ranks dead last in performance ratings, i.e., time between breakdowns, when compared with the 20 transit agencies ranked closest to it.[20]

     So, the MBTA has outrageous maintenance costs but the worst maintenance performance. How is this possible? Why does the state government, that oversees the MBTA tolerate such a situation? The answer – The Democratically controlled state government and the MBTA unions are married to each other. As the Pioneer report points out, the blame can be laid at the feet of the state’s overly restrictive pro-union and anti-privatization statute, known as the Pacheko Law, which makes it almost impossible for the MBTA to outsource the maintenance work through competitive bidding to obtain less expensive maintenance services.[20] Let’s see now, the Democratically controlled state government passes a law that requires the maintenance work to be performed in-house by MBTA union workers. These same unions make sure to provide the support that keeps these same Democratic politicians in power so that the anti-privatization statute remains in force. Sweet deal!

     The net results here in Massachusetts in 2013 are: higher public transportation fares, along with increased taxes on gasoline and cigarettes to pay for state subsidies to the transportation system, but still grossly expensive maintenance costs with highly substandard maintenance performance.


  1. Republican Governor Battles to Reform Transit System, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 226, 6 July 2015.
  2. MBTA among nation’s worst for derailments, records show, Vernal Coleman and Matt Rocheleau, Boston Globe,
    11 June 2019.
  3. Boston: MBTA infrastructure and working conditions worsen, John Marion, World Socialist Web Site,
    24 February 2018.
  4. We Can End Boston's Transportation Nightmare, Miles Howard, Cognoscenti, 12 June 2019.
  5. ‘Marginal’ MBTA changes inadequate, governor warns, Bob Salsberg, Portland Press Herald, 16 May 2015.
  6. Reform in name only, OpEd, Boston Herald, Page 18, 24 June 2015.
  7. ON THE CAMPAIGN RAIL, Erin Smith and Matt Stout, Boston Herald, Page 5, 24 June 2015.
  8. MBTA workers jam Statehouse hearing on transit overhaul, WCVB.com, 27 April 2015.
  9. Carmen leaflets litter buses, call out DeLeo, OpEd, Boston Herald, Page 2, 1 July 2015.
  10. Massachusetts: Democratic, Unionized and Very Expensive - Part 2, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 172,
    15 August 2013.
  11. MBTA releases long-closed pension data, wxvb.com, 9 August 2013.
  12. More T pensioners collecting than paying, Matt Stout, Boston Herald, Page 2, 10 August 2013.
  13. T pension list a map of Bulger fam’s free rides, Howie Carr, Boston Herald, Page 4, 9 August 2013.
  14. Transportation in Massachusetts: The Cost of Doing Nothing, The Boston Foundation, 11 April 2012.
  15. Mass. Tax-and-spend road $how, Michael Graham, Boston Herald, Page 15, 5 July 2013.
    Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA), October 2011.
  17. The State of Transportation in Massachusetts, http://www.macponline.org/PDF/ Boston%20Informer%20TransReform.pdf, Accessed 13 August 2013.
  18. Massachusetts: Democratic, Unionized and Very Expensive, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 168,
    2 July 2013.
  19. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Wikipedia, Accessed 1 July 2013.
  20. Runaway costs at MBTA, OpEd, Boston Herald, Page 14, 1 July 2013.


28 June 2019 {Article_366; My State_18}    
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