Mayor Walsh calls for more T funding after Orange Line woes
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Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh called for exploring higher taxes to support the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Thursday, a day after Orange Line passengers smashed open windows to escape a smoking train at Back Bay Station.
Footage of the chaotic scene made national newscasts and prompted Walsh to urge increased funding for the agency, possibly through a short-term tax.
"If you want to upgrade a system, have a world-class system here in Boston, in Massachusetts — which we deserve — we need the revenue for it," Boston Mayor Martin Walsh told reporters. "We have to get a little creative here and maybe do some type of tax with an end in sight, so you have something in place."
The call for higher spending stands in sharp contrast with the position of the Baker administration, which has decried the agency's poor management and said it does a poor job of spending the money it has.
When asked about the Orange Line incident, Governor Charlie Baker focused on the driver's failure to warn passengers that the engine had overheated.
"There were some protocol issues there," Baker said to WBZ NewsRadio 1030. If "there's an incident like that, the operator is supposed to make an announcement about it and explain to people what's going to happen next. That didn't happen."
Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, said that the driver "is being retrained on the importance of keeping passengers informed of such a situation." He did not disclose any other discipline.
Baker's comments drew an angry response from James O'Brien, the president of the Boston Carmen's Union, which is battling the Baker administration over outsourcing efforts.
"The governor's blame is nothing more than an attempt to deflect from the real issue: Our MBTA trains are falling apart as a result of decades of neglect and lack of investment," O'Brien said in a statement.
The Orange Line train's motor overheated around 4:40 p.m. Wednesday as it began to leave Back Bay Station, filling the train and the platform area with smoke. Five people were treated for smoke inhalation, and several others broke windows to escape the train, which does not have emergency exit handles on the doors.
The incident recalled a January episode when passengers had to break through windows to escape a smoke-filled train on the Red Line. In July, a blown fuse under an Orange Line train sent smoke into the Massachusetts Avenue Station, causing a panic. In that instance, the agency criticized the motorman for not remaining calm while informing passengers of the emergency.
MBTA officials have defended their management, citing plans for $3.7 billion in improvements over the next five years. About $1.6 billion of that money will be spent on trains and buses, and another $1.08 billion on tracks, signals, and power, Pesaturo said. The MBTA will spend between $850 million to $900 million on improvements this fiscal year, he added.
The MBTA is waiting on an order that would replace many of the Orange Line cars that date back to the early 1980s and never received an overhaul to improve their condition.
But several Boston officials said Thursday that the MBTA needs an infusion of public money to improve the system. On Twitter, Boston City Council president Michelle Wu and Councilor Josh Zakim both lamented the incident.
Wu called the engine failure "terrifying and unacceptable" and called on the MBTA to spend more on its services.
"How often does this have to happen before @MBTA makes real plan & investments to fix infrastructure, expand service??" Wu wrote at 4:30 p.m.
The council president called the incident "terrifying and unacceptable" just before 5 p.m., when videos surfaced of passengers running to escape the smoke.
Zakim replied to Wu's initial post two hours later, calling on Governor Charlie Baker to put more money into the transit system.
"It's enough already. Time for @CharlieBakerMA to commit to real investment in our #PublicTransit system!" said Zakim.
Wu also retweeted several posts from people bemoaning the delays in the aftermath of the incident.
"We have jobs and school to get to and when we're late [because] of the T, we're at risk of getting fired or yelled at," one post, from Ben Chan, said.
Mayor Walsh said he was also concerned by the response on Wednesday. He said people within Back Bay Station were not aware of what was happening.
"There has to be security in place and a system in place that alerts people," Walsh said. "We need to have people on the track that actually work and that understand what's going so on so that when you have a situation like yesterday, you actually have employees on the track."
A spokesman for Baker, Billy Pitman, said the MBTA will thoroughly review the incident.
"The safety and security of the MBTA is a top priority for the administration," he wrote. "As the MBTA conducts a full investigation of this incident, the governor appreciates the quick response by the Transit Police and first responders and the patience of riders who were inconvenienced during their evening commute."