If Charlie Baker had to ride the train on Friday they would have it fixed by Thursday
I was out of town at a conference and commiserating with journalists last week when I heard that the T was on fire again, this time literally. In case you missed the news due to also being outside of the Bay State, perhaps in a place where public transportation isn’t constantly hurting people, then I recommend you read the Guardian piece by Luke O’Neil titled “Boston’s new hero: woman who jumped from burning subway car into river.” And peruse the tweets of those who have been terribly impacted by the injustice of insufferable shutdowns and worse.
All these horrors are scenes in the latest remake of a torture film that never seems to wrap. People including me are frustrated to the point of hopelessness, and that’s a big part of the problem.
At the conference I attended, one of the things reporters whined about was how we constantly identify problems that aren’t subsequently addressed by offending parties. That’s obviously how I feel every time I hear about a T derailment or some other preventable Mass transit mayhem, though when it comes to the MBTA—unlike with prisons, surveillance, and other taboo issues that respectable big corporate outlets largely ignore—it’s not just us disreputable schmucks on the conspiratorial fringes who regularly sound alarms.
It’s freaking everyone!
From ace photographer Derek Kouyoumjian snapping pics of the tragic infrastructure that our lives depend on, to investigative journalists like Dan Atkinson pointing out how the MBTA spends millions of dollars a year on marketing to tell us our trains are safe and reliable when they clearly aren’t, our team at the Dig has tried to cover these issues from unique angles, since even mainstream outlets pay attention to the larger overall mess. Headlines from this past week alone include: MBTA Red Line train car ‘with diminished braking capacity’ rolls 800 feet north of Braintree Station; Can people injured on the MBTA sue to the T?; What to make [of] the MBTA right now as safety incidents pile up; Congressman calls for change at MBTA after Boston train fire.
But even with that negative exposure and ongoing outrage, part of the hideous truth often goes missing. Perhaps it is implied in all the writing on the wreckage, and in the IG posts depicting commuter despair, still it must be said as directly as possible, so here goes—the T sucks because no one who has the power to un-suck it cares about the people who have to ride the train to work. It’s like back when Kanye made some sense and basically became the first major celeb to note how George W. Bush let New Orleans sink under Katrina due to the city being one of America’s centers of Black pride and poverty. Ye doesn’t typically inspire me but with that one he did and I feel like this is an appropriate moment to pay it forward. Here goes: Massachusetts doesn’t care about poor people.
Or working people.
Or people who want to train it to Fenway Park without detouring through Action Park.
If the state—namely whoever is in charge of this place anymore, I honestly don’t know, since there is less accountability on Beacon Hill than there is on Capitol Hill, with far less fanfare—genuinely wanted us to get to our jobs [insert adverb for while not on fire], then we’d have trains that worked. Fast, badass aerodynamic rail with comfortable seats and futuristic bells and whistles. That stay on the tracks they are supposed to roll on.
If you think this is hyperbole, then I bet you drive into the office. Or mostly work from home, as I do. If that’s the case, if you’re having difficulty locating the root of this problem, try imagining if Charlie Baker had to ride the train every day. I know it is a ludicrous scenario, but please, give it a quick spin. What if the leader of this commonwealth and all his cronies regularly got stuck on mass transit? Then what?
For starters, if the comfortable were impacted by MBTA disasters, Mass wouldn’t have adopted a so-called “Forward Funding” formula which, as the good government advocates at A Better City explain, makes it so the T has to “balance its budget using money from sales tax, assessments paid by the cities and towns served by the T, and revenues from fares, advertising, real estate and other sources” using a method that “was supposed to get the T off the Commonwealth’s books and make the agency lean and efficient.” The resulting problem: said concept didn’t ultimately work, effectively leaving straphangers screwed.
Put in other terms, our system is hobbled because the MBTA is stuck in an unending cycle of paying much interest on loans it has needed to borrow from the same class of people who don’t ride the T or care whatsoever if you end up in the Charles on your way up to Alewife.
And it’s only getting worse with the MBTA’s annual several-hundred-million-dollar budget shortfalls intensifying as ridership drops along with the political will to fund equitable transit by any means necessary.
I’m hardly finished covering the T, whether officials react to big scoops and criticisms made by journalists or not. But from now on, I’ll also make a point of noting why it’s never going to improve.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.