When I created the “Take the T Pledge” website in 2018, I was frustrated with the poor quality of the MBTA service I depended on to get to three different part-time jobs in a timely manner. I asked local and state politicians to pledge to take the MBTA to work for a week, believing that if our leaders could understand first-hand what MBTA commuters face, they would surely act to improve the situation.
Clearly I was mistaken. Many state lawmakers and local politicians agreed to take the T for a week; it has only gotten worse since then. As everyone who rides it knows, the T is simply no longer a reliable way to get anywhere on time. Trains run fifteen minutes or more apart at rush hour. Slow zones mysteriously appear and disappear. And the infrastructure visibly crumbles around us. Commuting on the T, once an easy, relatively stress-free experience is now enraging, frightening, or both.
Those who don’t ride the T can see the results in Boston’s ever-worsening traffic, as frustrated commuters take to their own cars or those of rideshare drivers in an effort to simply get to work. An unreliable MBTA makes everyone’s commute worse and is already having economic effects even beyond the lost wages of hourly workers forced into tardiness by an unreliable MBTA. One of my coworkers in Boston recently quit because their 21-mile commute from Peabody routinely took an hour and a half. If you can’t work from home, the daily commute to and within Boston is a draining, demanding experience. How long can we expect workers to put up with this?
And, of course, more people in cars for longer periods of time means more carbon pumped out of the ground and into the air, worsening the climate crisis that we, as a coastal state, should be taking especially seriously. In short, the MBTA’s ongoing implosion negatively impacts everyone in Eastern Massachusetts, whether they ride it or not.
What, then, is to be done? Well, when the Commonwealth decides that a school system cannot be run competently under local control, it takes over. It’s past time for us to apply the same principle in reverse and devolve control of the MBTA to the municipalities that use it. The local governments of towns and cities served by the T are of necessity more responsive to the needs of riders than state government and understand that a fully-functional T is good for the economy, the climate, and the quality of life of their residents. And, ultimately, it would be nearly impossible for local governments to do a worse job with the MBTA than the state government has done. Why not give the people with the greatest stake in its success a chance to run the T?
Public transportation is simply too important to a functional, livable Greater Boston to be left in the hands of a state government that has shown, whether its leadership prefers Blink-182 or Brandi Carlisle, that it is either unwilling or unable to competently administer a public transportation system in a major American city.
I am no expert in the legal machinations needed to make this happen, but I have to imagine that a state legislature that has shown either neglect or contempt for the MBTA (the difference is unimportant, as the results are the same) will be thrilled to pass this responsibility off to cities and towns. Those of us who take the T will also be thrilled, as we’ll have something we haven’t had in years: hope.