The governor, the mayor, the head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and the chief of Logan Airport all want to send the same message this season: Winter is coming — and they are prepared for it.
The unprecedented snowfall that hobbled the region’s transportation system last winter has given way to a seemingly unprecedented number of press conferences meant to assure skeptical commuters that state and city agencies are ready for whatever Mother Nature throws Boston’s way. At least five such public announcements have been held so far, with another one from the state highway department planned in the coming weeks.
On Wednesday, after a tour of the MBTA’s South Boston emergency training facility, Governor Charlie Baker spoke to reporters and completed a familiar drill: reminding riders about the MBTA’s $83 million winter resiliency plan, which includes new rails and heaters on its tracks, more snow-fighting equipment, and beefed up emergency response plans.
“I believe we are far better prepared for this winter than last winter,” he said.
It wasn’t verbatim, but it wasn’t far off from what he told reporters in September: “You never know what Mother Nature’s going to deliver, but I feel very good that we are far better prepared for this winter than we were last year,” he said, on a sunny day in the MBTA’s Dorchester stockyard.
That day, Baker and MBTA officials showed off some of the 9½ miles of a new third rail on the Red Line, and paraded some of the agency’s new snow-fighting equipment.
In November, the MBTA held a similar press conference to tout the commuter rail’s winter preparations. Gerald Francis, the Keolis general manager, joined MBTA general manager Frank DePaola to again assure commuters that they have everything under control.
There, the media — and by proxy, the T’s riders — were treated to visuals of shiny, brightly colored snow-clearing tractors lined up like a fleet ready for battle. They also heard about the 45 new vehicles that would clear snow from nearly 700 miles of commuter rail tracks.
Earlier that morning, the Massachusetts Port Authority, the entity that runs Logan, had shown off its own snow-fighting machines with 27-foot plows.
And in late November, the City of Boston got in on the act, displaying a new snow-fighting machine that follows the example of a snowier city, Montreal. Mayor Martin J. Walsh boasted about how the new machines would actually remove snow from Boston’s streets, rather than just push it to the side.
Over and over again throughout the fall, officials have rattled off the names of all the machines that will battle snow: the front-end loaders, the swingmaster with a viper jet, the ballast regulator with an augur (also known as a plow), the Snowzilla, the Vamasses, and the John Deere tractors that will work to clear off tracks, yards, roads, and runways throughout the winter.
During several press conferences, DePaola told reporters they are preparing for a winter just like last year’s: a record-breaking series of storms that dumped more than 9 feet of snow that stubbornly failed to melt in the winter’s bitter temperatures (Perhaps luckily for the agencies and the citizens counting on them, meteorologists are already predicting that this winter won’t be as bad).
The onslaught of promises about winter resiliency and preparedness events did not seem to be lost on Baker, who acknowledged that Wednesday must have been his fourth — or was it his fifth? — briefing on the winter from the MBTA.
Asked about the frequent reminders, Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, said officials are simply answering the most frequently asked question they’ve gotten this year: “Is the MBTA going to be ready for this winter?”
“The intention of every interview, board presentation, news conference, press release, and public information campaign is to help answer that question,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Close to $83 million is being spent to make the transit system more resilient to winter’s harsh conditions, and we want to assure the citizens of the Commonwealth that their money is going to good use.”
For the MBTA, it’s not just press conferences and interviews. The agency recently launched a $5,950 public awareness campaign for the winter, which uses 800 commuter rail signs, 550 signs on buses and subways, and ads on electronic highway billboards.
Officials hope posters with a new slogan — “Winter happens. But we know you still need to get there” — will remind riders to download smartphone apps and sign up for alerts that can help them get the most up-to-date service information about delayed trains or buses.
Pesaturo believes such efforts may be working. In the two weeks since the agency launched the campaign, officials report a 20 percent increase in downloads of MBTA smartphone apps, a 7 percent jump in Twitter followers, and a 3 percent increase in subscribers to its T-Alerts system. On Wednesday, DePaola mentioned how the agency had already made moves to revamp that alert system, which sends out information about delays to riders. As he stood in front of a gleaming, out-of-service Blue Line car workers use for emergency drills, DePaola also mentioned a new “emergency snow desk” that would be staffed around the clock during heavy snowstorms. And just as he did in September and November, he delivered the same message calculated to reassure riders: “We’re confident going into this winter that we are much better prepared as an agency to handle storm events,” he said.