The T makes it harder to run a business in Boston
Steve Kurland, partner and general manager of Evoo and Za restaurants in Cambridge, needs a reliable Red Line. So do Werner Meier, acting CEO of Revitope Oncology, and Cathleen Wardley, general manager of the Cambridge Marriott hotel.
At least half of their employees go to work via the Red Line, and when it’s partly on the fritz — as it will be all summer long, following a June 11 derailment that destroyed a signal shed — well, let’s just say it’s going to be a long, hot, and slow summer.
Kurland, Meier, and Wardley were among more than three dozen CEOs and other business leaders who, as part of the Kendall Square Association, wrote last week to Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Bob DeLeo, and Senate President Karen Spilka, decrying the sorry state of our public transit system.
The leaders invited the Big Three to Kendall Square to talk about transportation fixes — and even take a ride on the Red Line together. Do it! Here’s why: Perhaps more than ever, the Red Line’s vulnerability is always on the minds of people who ride it every day and those whose businesses depend on it getting those people from point A to point B. No matter how many times lawmakers have heard it before, they need to keep listening to tales about the ripple effects of an unreliable subway system.
Consider this: Before the derailment, Kurland got about five texts or calls a week from employees who were running late. Now he receives 20 to 25 a week. Kurland estimates 65 of his 80 employees rely on public transportation, with many of them coming from East Boston, Somerville, Medford, and Revere.
“They are having a lot of stress,” Kurland said.
“I’m getting so many texts and calls from people, ‘I am running late. I’ve taken a different bus. I had to get out and do an Uber.’ ”
Like T officials, Kurland is advising workers to build in extra time for their commutes, but he knows not everyone can do that. Between second jobs, child-care hours, and other complications, there’s only so much extra time that can be shoehorned into already tight daily schedules. And because of the high cost of parking in Kendall Square — about $20 to $30 a day — driving isn’t an option for many of his workers.
“If people are late, it’s hard to set up properly,” said Kurland, who commutes four stops on the Red Line from downtown Boston, where he lives. He now leaves his home about 20 minutes earlier so he can make it in by 9 a.m.
Coming in from East Boston, Ivo Baca — who works as a server, bartender, and manager at Evoo and Za — has to wake up an hour earlier to make it to work by 10 am. His commute, which involves the Blue, Green, and Red lines, used to take only a half-hour; post Red Line derailment, that same commute consumes an hour every morning.
Sometimes Baca finds himself stuck on Park Street Station’s Red Line platform, waiting for what seems like forever. Sometimes he gives up on the train and walks the 25 minutes to Kendall Square.
“I’m nervous for the winter,” Baca said. “If the staff can’t get here, we can’t operate.”
In another part of Kendall Square, Meier, acting CEO of the biotech startup Revitope, gave up on the MBTA two years ago. Commuting from Burlington, he used to take an MBTA bus to the Red Line’s Alewife Station in Cambridge. The Red Line wasn’t the problem back then.
“In the evening I would get to Alewife, and then it’s a complete crap shoot if a bus shows up,” Meier recalled. Public transit could take two hours. So now he drives to work — in just under an hour. (Yes, there’s a lot of traffic.)
Out of eight employees, half depend on the MBTA, the Red Line in particular. Revitope is developing cancer treatments using the body’s own immune system, and most of the work requires employees to be in the lab.
“If the public transportation fails, the impact is huge. If two of the eight people are stuck on the Red Line . . . I have a very large chunk of the company that is not available,” Meier said. “While it’s bad for everyone, it’s particularly bad for small companies.”
These small companies in Kendall Square are capable of discovering the next big thing — something life-changing, or even life-saving. Yet the sense of urgency on Beacon Hill doesn’t match up with what could be lost.
“It’s not just the inconvenience, it’s the ability of Greater Boston to be a leader in biotech,” Meier said. “The issue is the entire public transportation [system] is not capable of dealing with transporting people.”
“To me, it’s not fixing the derailment problem. Obviously that’s a problem,” he added. “But if it gets fixed, it gets back to the status quo, which is not good.”
At the Cambridge Marriott, Wardley, the general manager, is adapting to the reality of a slower Red Line through Labor Day.
“If people are late to work, it’s beyond their control,” she said. “We all wish it could be improved.”
When the Red Line is working properly, it’s a beautiful thing, and with Kendall Square Station steps away, its proximity is a perk for many of the hotel’s 200 employees.
“This is the reason why people come to work here. They have direct access to public transportation, easy peasy,” Wardley said. “Nobody wants to walk a quarter of a mile.”
But when the T is malfunctioning, “it’s such a pain point,” she added.
The truth is that our transit system has been in chronic pain for years. It’s well past time we do something about it. Our economy can’t wait.