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Cracking down for cash at the T, and a heart-wrenching Lego incident

Posted by Nichole Davis  March 5, 2013 08:45 PM

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That survey about MBTA overnight ridership from this weekend's entry may not do as much good as some of us had hoped.

While there's been lots of talk about Governor Patrick's transportation funding plan, we're now finding that the MBTA is kind of stuck between a rail and a hard place when it comes to cash.

The fiscal year for the agency starts July 1, but they have to present an as-close-to-balanced-as-they-can-get budget to the Board of Directors by April 15. Trouble is, many on Beacon Hill have said it's going to be several months before they can come to a compromise on the funding plan -- even just the first response to the proposed tax hikes and other revenue boosters isn't due until April 10th of this year. The funding may or may not show up in time, but nothing's guaranteed.

So, the T's assuming that they're stuck with a $130 million deficit that they have to chop down by themselves. (This, of course, just months after accepting another state bailout and putting a fare hike into place across the board.)

In a presentation today, Director of Strategic Initiatives Charles Planck laid out two scenarios - both of which are far from ideal - in order to try to whittle down the deficit:

"Solution" 1 - solely fare-increase based. We're talking a 33 percent hike. Bus fares would soar up to $2 per ride, and a one-way ticket on the subway would cost you $2.60. Commuter rail prices would be adjusted depending on the zone and line.

"Solution" 2 - a little bit of everything. Fares would still go up, but only 15 percent. Thirty of the least utilized weekday and weekend bus routes would be cut. Subsidies for local bus service would be slashed. There would be the potential to significantly reduce service on the weekends, even for commuter rail and the subway. Weeknight service could also be reduced to ending around 11:00 PM.

Yikes.

Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Davis told the State House News Service that getting rid of the deficit is not going to be possible without putting some sort of service cut or fare increase in place, even while utilizing other resources for revenue that they have in place. General Manager Beverly Scott says that they're working on cutting $10-20 million in overhead, but she says there's only so much they can slash from everyday operating costs when it comes to management, repairs, and so on. Scott also told the AP:

‘‘This is not about some kind of throw-down or putting someone on notice... It is what it is. There are consequences of inaction, and we are just doing what we need to do on our end.’’

My thought: even if you're NOT deliberately trying to put someone "on notice", I think that suggesting such steps is doing exactly that - you're sending out the message that this agency is in severe fiscal trouble, needs some significant help, and that they can't handle it alone while providing the service that we expect.

If that's not putting people on notice, I don't know what is.

The good news (?) that came out of all of this today is that this is not any sort of a finalized approach to finding funding, and that there will be public meetings and other steps taken to see if there's another way around the problem before putting one or the other into place. The T has been experiencing a nice uptick in ridership, with 1.3 million riders per day in 2012 - just over two percent per day more than in 2011. If such austere cuts and hikes are put in place, I can't imagine that uptick will continue. We'll have to see.

How about you? Will you re-think riding the MBTA if these cuts and hikes are put in place? Will you just stick with it anyway? Is it still going to be less expensive to take the train as opposed to your commute? Do you think there's another way?
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Joe from Brighton wrote in some time ago with this question for me:

I never had to commute in and around Boston until recently, but something on my route really is bugging me. The timing/triggers of the traffic light at the base of Heartbreak Hill at the junction at Comm Ave (Rt 30) and Grant Ave are terrible.

The issue is, every cycle, it gives a green light to the carriage road, and that additional time given to a part of the road that is hardly used backs up Comm Ave back to Centre Street on most nights and beyond on some nights.

I maybe have seen a car come down off the carriage road a handful of times in the 6 months or so I have been coming that way home. Most nights, the rest of Route 30 is a great alternative from Waltham to Brighton, but that one segment is such a pain because of that light.

Being a resident of Brighton, I've been through that intersection many a time and I know exactly what Joe's talking about. It took some time, but I was finally able to get ahold of William Paille, who's the Director of Transportation at the DPW in Newton. He told me that Joe's complaint's not the first they've heard about that specific intersection - but he says there's an issue in the way of their being able to handle it:

... The intersection was recently reconstructed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and is still under their control. As a result, the City cannot make any timing changes.

Apparently the state is supposed to finish the project sometime this year, at which point the city will be able to step in and fix the timing of the light. He says they'll be in touch with MassDOT to see what they can do about fixing the timing ahead of that time.

Joe, let me know if anything changes! And, of course, if you have a question that you want me to try and tackle, you can always email me at commuting.boston at gmail.com.
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Stepping on a LEGO is really, really painful. Something else that's wicked painful -- losing your entire collection on the highway as your mom drives down the road.

c|net reports that's what happened around 5:15 Sunday afternoon on Interstate 79 in Harrison County, West Virginia. (Click through for a photo which will make any Lego lover, no matter the age, get a bit sniffly.) Allegedly, the spill was due to a not-very-well-secured bin chock-full of Legos on top of an SUV.

A woman named Tiffany Lantz commented on this Facebook post, discussing how the splattered Legos were her fault, apologizing, and how upset her son allegedly was after losing most of his Lego collection. That sounds like a rough situation all around -- and not just on the road.

Have you ever lost a favorite item out of a vehicle while traveling? Or a train... or a bus... or on a plane? Not just your wallet, but something you really loved?
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You'll find slowdowns here... (Downtown Boston edition)

Expressway / O'Neill Tunnel northbound

The ramp to Government Center will be closed Tuesday through Thursday night from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM.

The ramp from Frontage Road northbound to the Pike eastbound will be closed on Thursday from 11:59 PM to 5:00 AM.

++ COMPLETE CLOSURE ++ of the Expressway northbound at Mass Ave on Wednesday from 11:30 PM to 5:00 AM. Follow detours along Frontage Road.

Expressway / O'Neill Tunnel southbound

++ COMPLETE CLOSURE ++ of the O'Neill Tunnel southbound at Exit 20 A/B (Mass Pike/South Station) Tuesday through Thursday nights from 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM. Follow traffic detours.

++ COMPLETE CLOSURE ++ of 93 southbound at Route 38 in Somerville (Exit 30) on Tuesday from 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM. Follow traffic detours.

The Essex Street on-ramp to the Expressway southbound will close Tuesday through Thursday nights from 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM.

The ramp from Rutherford Avenue to the O'Neill Tunnel and Storrow Drive on Tuesday from 11:30 PM to 5:00 AM.

Three lanes will be closed leaving the O'Neill Tunnel to South Bay on Thursday from 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM.

Mass Pike westbound

The Airport access road to the Ted Williams Tunnel westbound will be closed on Wednesday from 11:30 PM to 5:00 AM.

The Clarendon Street on-ramp to the Pike westbound will close on Thursday from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.

The ramp from the Harborside Tunnel to the Ted Williams Tunnel westbound will close on Wednesday from 11:30 PM to 5:00 AM.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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