Considering the importance of mass transit to Boston’s economy, and the wrenching disruptions this winter’s T shutdown caused, one would hope that the city’s elected representatives would be leading the way in advocating for better service. Unfortunately, they’re not. With the state Senate emerging as the key battleground for Governor Charlie Baker’s T overhaul plan, the Boston delegation needs to start speaking up for their constituents.
Baker’s fix — which would couple the freedom to raise fares with increased oversight from a new financial control board for the agency — is, overall, a good one. The bill would also temporarily free the T from the Pacheco law, which limits state agencies’ ability to contract out to the private sector for services, a welcome move that could lead to more efficiencies.
These reforms, however, have so far foundered in the state Senate, where they have met with opposition from the leadership. Some of the concern is legitimate. Several senators have questioned the wisdom of withholding additional funds the transportation authority was promised in 2013. But removing the control board proposal and keeping the MBTA under the Pacheco law, which some in the Senate leadership also favors, would water down the reforms.
Boston, more than almost anyplace else in the Commonwealth, needs those reforms. But when the Globe reached out to the six senators whose districts include parts of Boston to gauge their views on Baker’s proposed fixes to the MBTA, few were eager to talk. Will Brownsberger, who represents parts of Brighton and the Back Bay, as well as several suburban towns, is definitely thinking about transportation reform the right way. He backs Baker’s financial control board proposal and favors removing the T from the strictures of the Pacheco law. He even explained part of his reasoning in a blog post. And while he disagrees with Baker’s proposal to cut the promised funding, he is confident that portion of the bill can be removed before a final vote. Linda Dorcena Forry agrees with Brownsberger on the financial control board, but she disagrees that the MBTA should be removed from the Pacheco law. She argues that since the law’s passage in 1993, 12 out of 15 of the T’s requests for private contracts have been approved.
Three of the others — Anthony Petruccelli, Sal DiDomenico, and Michael Rush — didn’t return phone calls. It’s particularly worrying that Rush, who sits on the joint committee on transportation with Forry, couldn’t muster up a point of view on T reform. The response from Jamaica Plain’s Sonia Chang-Diaz’s response is hardly better: According to an e-mail statement from her aide, she is “still in information-gathering mode.”
It shouldn’t be this difficult to find out how legislators feel about an issue as important as fixing the MBTA. For Boston lawmakers — whose constituents were among those affected most by the failure of public transportation last winter — ducking is inexcusable. They should take a lesson from Brownsberger and Forry and at least lay out their thinking on the issue. Better yet, Boston’s elected representatives should put T riders in their districts first by getting behind important reforms to an agency the city depends on.