Southie residents know all too well the inconsistency of the MBTA. With the transit system being our primary car-free route into the main city, it’s hard to avoid using it all the time. Personally, I take the train and bus home from school almost every day, and I found this past year that trains and buses were the slowest they’ve ever been. Seemingly every other time I took the T, I’d encounter a sluggish train or 20-minute gap. And it’s not just me: transportation times are indeed worse than ever, with 24% of train tracks now labeled as slow zones due to aging tracks.
The MBTA says it’s fixing the tracks to create faster commutes in the long run, but state officials have made similar promises for years after each disaster, only for no improvement to come. The key issue? Massachusetts officials must give proper funding to the MBTA so that it has the ability to make structural fixes. Otherwise, the network is left without enough resources to maintain anything beyond a mediocre state of operation, let alone improve. So, as tempting as it is to blame the MBTA itself for transit problems, we should focus on electing people who will give the system proper funding and care.
After all, the MBTA’s current struggle is directly related to underfunding. In 2000, a commission decided to give the MBTA a consistent revenue stream via the sales tax, but revenues from such taxes failed to grow at the expected rate. Along with this change, the state also transferred much of its debt to the T. As a result, the T has been forced to either raise fares or sacrifice important safety spending. In the past few years, Massachusetts officials have urged Governor Baker to raise sales taxes once more, but Baker—who admitted in 2018 that he never took the T—refused the plan and similar solutions. Though raising sales taxes—already an unstable revenue stream—may not be not the best option, Baker’s refusal to raise funding at all clearly exacerbated the T’s issues. His case shows why we should focus on who we elect in trying to salvage the MBTA.
Thankfully, last year Massachusetts voted yes on ballot question 1, which would raise income taxes on those making over $1 million to reallocate funding to education and infrastructure. This plan is a great first step since, unlike sales taxes, it will create a stable revenue stream. If Massachusetts state officials allocate a generous amount of this wealth tax revenue to the T, it would make a huge difference. Governor Maura Healey has already pledged that the funding will solely go to education and infrastructure—the T being the primary target in the latter group. Voters should hold her to that campaign promise and consider the T’s success in deciding whether to reelect her.
Funding the T is also important because a bus network redesign is underway, which will undoubtedly use more resources. For Southie in particular, the 7 bus route will expand to Charlestown while retaining all original stops. To implement this change and other similar ones without slowing commutes, the MBTA must first fix its current infrastructure. Only then will the network be able to successfully incorporate resource-draining new routes. In this way, funding the MBTA is also about giving it the proper foundation to build new routes and implement new features.
What this comes down to is valuing the T as what it is: a vital piece of Massachusetts’ infrastructure that should serve all residents. It should not just be a “fallback” for the working class that the upper class never takes. With last year’s election, the state’s priorities are rightfully beginning to adjust accordingly. As Boston residents, we should continue to monitor our representatives’ handling of the MBTA to become informed voters.