The Boston area is one of the fastest growing regions in America. By 2035, economic centers such as the South Boston Waterfront, Kendall Square, and the Longwood Medical Area are expected to generate more than 30 million square feet of new development and thousands of new jobs. Neighborhoods throughout the metropolitan region are well positioned for both job and population growth, and are looking toward transit-oriented development to boost their economies.
Unfortunately, the state is on a course to see this potential for economic opportunity slowed, and possibly reversed, by antiquated, underfunded public transit systems. Last month in a report from MassBenchmarks, Massachusetts economists identified the state of our transportation system as a genuine constraint on the future economic growth and prosperity of the Commonwealth. As representatives of about 1,600 business and institutions in Greater Boston, we know that improving transportation is the top public policy priority for the business community. The state needs to bring together reform, investment, and future planning for a better transportation system.
The Baker administration, with the support of the Legislature and the business community, has done great work in creating a clear picture of the financial and physical state of the MBTA and has made progress on controlling operating expenses through management reforms. These efforts, and the recent focus on attracting talented managers, build an excellent foundation for progress.
But there are steps that can be taken now, even as the state moves forward with reforms. For each of those reforms, the business community hopes to be a partner and advocate.
The most fundamental step is to create a collaborative, statewide vision for our transportation system and its role in enhancing the economy and quality of life in Massachusetts.
In addition, the MBTA must begin to create sound and permanent management and governance structures to foster leadership and efficient practices for the long term after the temporary Fiscal and Management Control Board is gone. As part of this, we should embrace Governor Baker’s strategy of attracting top-flight talent throughout the entire agency — from general manager to middle manager. Yes, top talent costs more, but the return on investment far exceeds the price.
The Department of Transportation and the MBTA must also begin to discuss, and create, a comprehensive, long-range finance plan that includes broader statewide funding discussion. They should set a goal of putting a comprehensive transportation finance plan before the Legislature in 2017. While new sources of revenue must be contemplated, increasing fares must be coupled with a plan on spending that revenue effectively and efficiently. Innovative approaches to fare collection, value capture, and public-private partnerships should be considered.
Finally, in order to support the region’s current and future economic growth, the T needs to invest in three priority areas: improving the state of good repair, meeting ridership demand by increasing the capacity of the existing system, and embracing strategic expansion projects to support economic development and regional growth priorities. Similar types of discussions should take place throughout the Commonwealth.
The Massachusetts economy is moving faster than ever before, and we need our public transit and transportation system to move and grow just as fast because it is the single most important physical tool in any economic-development strategy. Working together, the business community and government can make our top priority our best success.
James E. Rooney is president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber Commerce. Richard A. Dimino is the president and CEO of A Better City.