All eyes will be on the MBTA’s commuter rail Monday to see whether it lives up to its promise for a full recovery — and one of the closest observers will be Governor Charlie Baker.
Keolis Commuter Services, which operates the rail system for the T, shocked riders when it announced the trains would run on a reduced schedule for five full weeks after a series of snowstorms socked the system. The company pledged to return to its normal schedule by March 30, and commuter rail officials say the operation is on track to do so.
Over the last month, the governor’s office became increasingly attentive to the system’s recovery. For about two weeks, senior staff members spent most of their days at the MBTA and Keolis offices. Baker’s chief of staff speaks to Keolis officials at least three times a day, according to Leslie Aun, a Keolis spokeswoman.
Tim Buckley, Baker’s spokesman, said the record-breaking winter pushed the governor to ramp up his involvement.
“This was a very, very unique situation, and so the intense coordination between the governor’s office and the MBTA and Keolis was really a result of the resources that were necessary to get the system back up and running,” he said.
In February, the governor appeared to take ownership of the system’s troubles when he created a special panel of infrastructure and transportation experts. Baker tasked the group with looking into the governance, finances, and maintenance of the T and its commuter rail system by the end of March.
Baker has been a regular presence there, too: He has sat in on at least two of the panel meetings, according to Buckley. Also, Baker’s transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, has participated in all eleven of the group’s meetings, according to a Department of Transportation spokesman.
Though the point man for the commission stepped down amid controversy about his finances, the panel is still expected to meet its deadline, Buckley said, with a report on its findings to be released in the first or second week of April.
Transportation officials to testify on Beacon Hill
Officials from the MBTA and its commuter rail operator will have to answer to the Legislature this week.
Pollack, the secretary of transportation, and the MBTA’s interim general manager, Frank DePaola, are among seven senior T officials and MassDOT employees scheduled to testify in front of the Joint Committee on Transportation on Monday, and answer a range of questions about the transit agency’s operations.
The following day, the general manager of Keolis Commuter Services, Gerald Francis, and Thomas Murray, president of the local Transit Workers Union chapter, will discuss the rail system’s response to this winter’s storms.
State Representative William M. Straus, the House chairman of the committee, said he hoped the hearings would help the public understand how to avoid a repeat of a disaster like this season. But he said it’s not just about the snowstorms.
“This last winter’s difficulties has become an opportunity again for transportation to continue to work on management changes, financial changes, and equipment needs — for not just the commuter rail and the T, but ultimately, our statewide system,” he said.
Carriage News closing down, blames ride-sharing services
Ever since Uber first started up in Boston, local taxi drivers have said mobile ride-hailing services could mean the end of the industry. Now, a local taxi industry newspaper also wants to blame Uber for the demise of its print edition.
In its February issue, the Carriage News announced that it would stop publishing after 45 years. “Carriage News may be the first fatality of the TNC wars, but it will not be the last,” read an unsigned front-page article, using the acronym for “transportation network companies,” in its last print issue.
According to the article, many advertisements in the newspaper were purchased by banks and credit unions that could lend money to drivers interested in buying taxi medallions. Boston is among the communities in which a medallion is required to operate a taxi.
Because companies such as Uber and Lyft are not required to have medallions to offer their services, the demand for them has fallen, the article said. And without buyers for medallions, the lenders have lost interest in purchasing ad space in the newspaper.
“The lending institutions are not lending any longer, nor are they advertising,” the article stated.
Without the revenue from the advertisements, printing the newspaper has become impossible, the article said.
A variety of companies placed advertisements in the newspaper’s last issue: car dealerships, attorneys who specialize in cab industry issues, a carwash, an insurance agency.
In its farewell article, the Carriage News also took aim at “do-nothing” politicians who have allowed companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate outside of the medallion system.
“The Boston taxicab industry, once a proud billion dollar business, must not be allowed to fall victim to the apathy of our elected officials,” the newspaper stated in the last line of the article.
When reached by phone, Bob Keeley, the newspaper’s publisher, said he had health issues and declined to speak further.
The article said the newspaper will continue providing news for Boston cabbies on a revamped website. A message posted at www.carriage-news.com says Keeley is selling the site and the names of two publications, Carriage News and the Rear View Mirror.