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Fixing the blatant inequity of Boston transit

International travelers get a taxpayer-supported investment of $130 per person, while the people who power Greater Boston day in and day out get $3.13.

MBTA commuter trains at South Station waited for passengers.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

International air travelers are about to get a big upgrade in Boston. Terminal E, already the grandest terminal at Logan, is getting a $700 million expansion (a combination of federal funding and Massport revenue). It’s needed because it serves over three times the number of passengers it was built for in 1974. With 5.4 million annual guests, that’s an investment of about $130 per passenger.

Meanwhile, across town, the Orange Line was shut down for a month — not to get an upgrade, but simply to return it to the slow, trundling service it’s provided for a century. Expectations are so low that the $189 million project, allocated from the MBTA’s Capital Investment Plan, will be considered a success if trains stop catching on fire. With 60 million MBTA passengers in 2019, that’s an investment of $3.13 per passenger.


International travelers get a taxpayer-supported investment of $130 per person, while the people doing the work to build our airport and everything else — the people who power Greater Boston day in and day out — get $3.13.

Is that equity?

A world-class city like Boston deserves a world-class international airport. But the people of Massachusetts also deserve a world-class transit system. That’s what we got in 1897 when Boston built the first subway in America. But many parts of the T have barely been upgraded in the 125 years since.

Let’s think of it this way: By the 1960s, air travelers no longer expected to stand in the rain or snow to board their flight. Yet today we still expect thousands of commuters to weather the snow and ice at uncovered MBTA stations just to get to work. Is it any wonder more people don’t ride the T?


Terminal E is getting four new gates, serving a combined 1.8 million more passengers each year. If the city spent that same amount of money enclosing four of the busiest Orange Line Stations, it would protect almost nine million riders — or five times as many people — each year.

Today our region’s leadership is debating important decisions like what kind of safety office the MBTA should establish and how they can accomplish routine maintenance without shutting down an entire T line, but this just gets us back to normal. These are basic operations every other transit system in the world performs routinely.

Our city, state, and federal leaders need to think much bigger, and fundamentally rethink how we invest in our region’s infrastructure — how we invest in our region’s people.

The basics should be obvious: The MBTA needs a culture change from an organization that ignores problems to one that proactively fixes them. From one that resists change to one that embraces it. From one that shuns accountability to one that demands it. From one designed to protect its people from getting fired to one that protects the passengers it takes to work every day.

But once the bare minimum is established in Boston, we need to invest more. A lot more.

A 2018 study from “A Better City” estimated that the MBTA has saved Massachusetts $15 billion from the 2,300 miles of highway and 3,000 acres of parking spaces that would be required if the T didn’t exist. It also identified $11.4 billion annual economic benefits from travel time and cost savings as well as avoided crashes and emissions.


In just one year, that could cover the cost of electrifying large swaths of the commuter rail system and building the North-South Rail Link. That’s an amazing return on investment.

What if policy makers invested the $130 per MBTA passenger that is being spent on Terminal E travelers?

That would be an approximately $48 billion capital investment in the T, likely paying for the North-South Rail Link, East-West Rail, and a high-speed rail link to the Cape. Contrast this with the basic repairs made to the Orange Line last month: routine maintenance like replacing track and fixing platforms, fixing tunnel leaks, cleaning signage, and conducting long-overdue inspections.

Imagine, instead, if Massachusetts and the MBTA invested in getting anywhere around the city in 30 minutes on modern, quiet, electric trains; getting to Springfield in under an hour; and getting to Hyannis in 30 minutes during rush hour in the summer.

That’s our future, Boston, if we choose it. It’s a better choice than we’re offering to Orange Line passengers today: risk your train catching fire on the way to work, or get wet while waiting for a train.

US Representative Seth Moulton represents Massachusetts’ Sixth Congressional District.