WGBH News Focus: The MBTA

MBTA Chief Mulls Your Ideas

By Bob Seay

May 3, 2012

BOSTON — Could the state take back the Big Dig debt? Could the MBTA expand service? In the first part of the WGBH News interview, Richard Davey, secretary of MassDOT, talks about listeners' ideas for fixing the T.
Go to part 2.

richard davey and bob seay
WGBH's Bob Seay, right, interviews Richard Davey of the Mass. Department of Transportation

Excerpts from the interview ...

Seay: The first suggestion: Expand service. More riders, more revenue.

Davey: True. That is true. But what folks have to realize, though, is usually that our costs go up.


The only service we run that makes money is our Patriots game-day commuter rail.... All the service that we run is subsidized. Today it costs you $1.70 to ride the subway with a Charlie Card? To run the service costs more like $3.20 per ride.

Seay: The second suggestion: Have the state take back the Big Dig debt.

Davey: I think that's a fine idea but with the caveat that — that is about $1.7 billion. It equates to about $125 million a year. You're just handing them, the state, the same problem. How are they going to pay for it? What kind of either programs would be cut or revenues would be raised? ... I think folks have to be careful what they wish for.

Seay: Suggestion #3: Raise the gas tax.

Davey: If we did that in the future, as the governor proposed, we have to be clear that that or any other revenues we might raise, would be dedicated to transportation across the Commonwealth. I think that whether real or imagined, folks that live outside the metropolitan Boston area... feel as though in the past, too many resources or a disproportionate number of resources have gone into Boston-based projects.

Seay: Suggestion #4 is have better PA systems so we can hear what they're saying.

Davey: [laughs] Charlie Brown's teacher has been retired. ... I think the PA systems certainly in the stations are pretty clear. I agree that the PA systems in some of the trains aren't so clear and so as we buy new trains we're moving to automated announcements. And soon, coming soon, we've been talking about it for a while but we don't want to roll it out until we get it right, will be the countdown clocks in the subways. 

Seay: The fifth suggestion was improve fare collection.

Davey: I think the most challenging piece for us has been our commuter rail. And we just announced last week that we're going to launch a pilot program later this year with a company from England that allows you to purchase your commuter rail ticket on your cellphone. It will be the first commuter rail in the U.S. to adopt this. ... We estimate through surveys that about 75 percent of all of our commuter rail customers have smartphones. So rather than spending tens of millions of dollars to put in gates and Charlie machines, this will cost us virtually nothing and the customer will literally have the ticket machine in their hands.

As fare hikes and service cuts await passengers, there's been little movement on solving the T's long-term problems. In the second part of his interview with WGBH News, Davey addressed the question what will happen if the legislature fails to act to address the T's budget deficit by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.



About WGBH News Focus: The MBTA

Love it, like it or lump it, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority touches nearly everyone's lives in eastern Mass. And it's in financial crisis, with newly announced fare hikes not enough to cover next year's projected $100 million budget deficit. WGBH News features special focus coverage of the tracks and troubles of our public transit system.

About the Author
Bob Seay Bob Seay
Bob Seay is the host of NPR's Morning Edition on 89.7FM WGBH Radio. He got his start in radio during college at WMUH, got involved with WGBH TV while in graduate school at Boston University and formerly hosted ME at WRNI in Rhode Island.

"If I Ran the T ..."

Everyone who's ever rode on the T has an opinion about what problem they'd change first. If you were in charge, where would you start? Let us know.

The Fare and Service Plan

On July 1, the T will introduce fare increases and service cuts to cover a $159 million budget gap for the next fiscal year. Read the plan on mbta.com.


Sign Up

Sign-up for WGBH News updates, WGBH promotions, and previews of what's coming up on WGBH TV.




Support for WGBH is provided by:
Become a WGBH sponsor