Dishonest, incompetent MBTA admits failure

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    Dishonest, incompetent MBTA admits failure

    In an "impact analysis" document, MBTA admits--without using honest words--that its mismanagement since 2002, steadily escalating costs in the face of stagnant and declining ridership, has failed. [ Elizabeth Moore, Potential MBTA fare increase and service reductions in 2012, MBTA Central Planning Staff, December, 2011, at ]

    MBTA publicity has been flagrantly dishonest. False claims of "increased ridership" are exposed by federal reports showing stagnant system ridership after 2002 and falling ridership after 2005. [ National Transit Database, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 2011, at ]

    Ridership (unlinked trips, millions) by type of transit
    Year    2002  2010   Change
    Rapid    239    208    -13%  (urban subway and trolley)
    Bus       109    108     -1%   (all types of bus service)
    Rail        39       37     -5%   (suburban commuter rail)

    In the first of two proposals to change fares and services--obviously the only serious one--MBTA cuts bus service to levels resembling the early 1960s, abandoning most of the middle suburbs of Boston that include Nahant, Swampscott, Marblehead, Beverley, Danvers, Peabody, Burlington, Lexington, Dedham, Milton and Canton, plus large parts of Waltham, Newton and Quincy. [Potential MBTA, 2011, Fig. 2-1]

    The second proposal is a doomday, scare tactic. also abandoning most bus service to the near suburbs of Lynn, Saugus, Revere, Winthrop, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Melrose, Wakefield, Stoneham, Woburn, Winchester, Medford, Arlington, Belmont, Needham, Quincy, Braintree, Randolph, Holbrook, Weymouth, Hingham and Hull, plus large parts of the inner suburbs: Somerville, Cambridge and Brookline.

    It shows bus service cut back to levels resembling the late 1920s, when bus services were new and classic Eastern Massachusetts streetcar lines, built from the 1880s through the 1920s, were nearly all still operating. [Potential MBTA, 2011, Fig. 2-2]

    In a heavily political stunt, incompetent management targets bus service, which has shown by far the most stable ridership, as a sacrificial victim--admitting, between the lines, MBTA management's protracted and gross failure to manage the costs of rapid transit, rail and subsidized taxi services.

  2. You have chosen to ignore posts from Firewind. Show Firewind's posts

    Re: Dishonest, incompetent MBTA admits failure

    >> False claims of "increased ridership" are exposed by federal reports showing stagnant system ridership after 2002 and falling ridership after 2005. <<

    Got to get a handle on the numbers.

    /> /> ...incompetent management targets bus service, which has shown by far the most stable ridership, as a sacrificial victim... <<

    Substitute, "...incompetent management targets the working poor and students... as sacrificial victims..."

    Though I have nothing to solidly base this on.

    [OT, can't get the pesky "/" out of this.]
  3. You have chosen to ignore posts from topaz978. Show topaz978's posts

    Re: Dishonest, incompetent MBTA admits failure

    The issue is why does the MBTA run at all without serious public community support. It seems that all these far flung lines means they are dependent on each communities financial support. And it seems those communities are not willing to get up the money. So it is a free market. Cut them. The local towns can deal with the increased traffic and such consequences. The MBTA needs to increase its parking fees and stop all "unprofitable" lines. Remember "profit" means the town ponies up the bucks for the top heavy and overpaid administration.
     A good substitute might be local private buses. But the towns would have to write the contracts and bid them. Maybe the statehouse should think about a private initiative bill to clear away the little gotchas that the MBTA encourages towns to do in bids to prevent real bidding.
  4. You have chosen to ignore posts from Firewind. Show Firewind's posts

    Re: Dishonest, incompetent MBTA admits failure

    Whoa.  Can't believe that I agree ... in the main ... with topaz978.  I would just add that the universities should weigh in, as well.  Some of them are definitely larger than some towns.  They have the ability to pass the cost along to students via (even "special") upfront fees.  I suspect, though at present have no basis, that this would go a long way to solving, or at least compensating for, the scofflaw problem.  Any negotiation would require data.

    And if they were really to chase this down - based on relatively simple data! - they would set up "special arrangements" with some of the large employers, private and public.  Give their employees a "group discount", but hook 'em. For employees, it's part of their pre-tax compensation/bennies.  For the "T" it's a reliable revenue stream. They and riders can budget and plan around it.

    This very definitely is the arrangement in many metro areas around the world.  Students and employees get their cards when they start, and then monthly.   

    But I have nothing on which to base any recommendation for Boston without data.
  5. You have chosen to ignore posts from AppDev. Show AppDev's posts

    So what's been going on at MBTA?

    From outside executive offices of state government, it's not easy to find out what has been happening at MBTA. Some useful information is in a spreadsheet with a FY2012 budget plus operating results from the prior 21 years. [ Statement of revenue and expenses, FY1991 through FY2012, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, at ]

    Here's how current MBTA finances work, on a cash-flow basis. The 800-pound gorilla in "service" expenses is the contract with MBCR to operate commuter-rail:

    Revenue from fares       $455 million (27%)
    Other revenue                  50 million   (3%)
    Local assessments         152 million   (9%)
    Sales tax receipts           777 million (47%)
    "Contract assistance"      160 million (10%)
    Special income                 62 million   (4%)
    Total MBTA income     $1.656 billion

    Wages and benefits       $657 million (40%)
    Services and supplies      637 million (38%)
    Debt and interest             362 million (22%)
    Total MBTA expenses $1.656 billion

    The take-home to remember is that fares pay, on average, only about a quarter of the cost of rides. Federal data show ridership flattened after 2002 and declined after 2005, but MBTA managed to keep fare and parking revenue from falling, mostly by hiking fares and fees in 2007. [ National Transit Database, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2011, at ]

    Since 1947, fares have not paid the full cost of rides. Before 2000, MTA and MBTA got an annual "deficiency budget" from the General Court. In 2000, the MBTA was instead granted one percentage point of the state sales tax. For a while, even with incompetent management, that worked because of increasing ridership and sales tax receipts. Fare revenue flattened after 2005, and sales tax receipts flattened after 2008.

    After financial problems were stanched in 2007 with fare and fee hikes, in 2008, MBTA drained reserve funds and took money, maybe illegally, from a special fund to finance capital improvements. After 2008, with fare revenue and sales tax receipts both flat, while expenses were still soaring, MBTA management began to panic. In 2009, the erratic, former general manager Dan Grabauskas was fired.

    For this year and the past two years the General Court has been pumping in $160 million a year in so-called "contract assistance." Those are weasel-words meaning the old MTA and MBTA "deficiency budget" from the past has been revived, added to the newer sales-tax earmark.

    For next year, $160 million is not going to be enough. Based on trends of the past six years, to keep fares and services the same, with no improvement in the effectiveness of management, MBTA probably would need an increase in "contract assistance" from $160 million to between $250 and $300 million.

    Despite threats of cutting services, MBTA is probably aiming mostly at another fare hike. Since fares are now only a small part of MBTA finances, that means a very large percentage increase, far beyond the level of general inflation.

  6. You have chosen to ignore posts from AppDev. Show AppDev's posts

    MBTA lies to the public

    MBTA management, a/k/a "Pinocchio," has been whooping it up in recent weeks about "unprecedented" ridership. All that is really unprecedented is the amount of publicity--obviously a P.R. stunt, seeking a huge infusion of cash to prop up a failed management.

    [ Amanda Cedrone, MBTA ridership hits 1.3 million per weekday, Boston Globe, December 30, 2011, at ]

    What MBTA has been touting is unaudited, weekly ridership, a volatile and unreliable measurement. What MBTA cynically reports to the Massachusetts public differs substantially from the audited results that it reports and certifies to the federal government.

    For three recent years, here is annual ridership MBTA reported to the public in Massachusetts, versus ridership (system-wide "unlinked trips" per year) that it reported to the federal Department of Transportation:

    Year          to the feds      to the public   exaggeration
    FY2007   357,578,991    373,530,956        4.5%
    FY2008   370,718,600    380,178,225        2.6%
    FY2010   356,060,335    375,411,178        5.4%

    To look for yourself, inspect the Service Data and Operating Expenses Time-Series by Mode table from the National Transit Database, and add up all MBTA services (ULT page). [ U.S. Department of Transportation, 2011, at ]

    For MBTA reports to the Massachusetts public, look at their recent Blue Book publications (Chapter 1, third table, "Annual Ridership"):

    [ MBTA ridership and service statistics, 2007, Blue Book 11th edition (FY2007), at ]
    [ MBTA ridership and service statistics, 2009, Blue Book 12th edition (FY2008), at ]
    [ MBTA ridership and service statistics, 2010, Blue Book 13th edition (FY2010), at ]

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    A grab for the last pot of gold

    Current MBTA management differ little in substance from those at the original MTA, who within two years of their 1947 charter were presenting the public with a bill for their incompetence. The music has changed since then, but the dance steps remain timeless: screw up, lie about it and bleed the public.

    Despite the ripe refuse about a ridership miracle, all that has happened is bolder steps at PR, based on unaudited surveys and financial juggling. Following are audited results filed with the federal government. Ridership peaked between 2002 and 2005, and since then it has been in gradual decline. Costs, however, have continued to shoot up like a bottle rocket, far beyond any amounts that come from debt service.

  8. You have chosen to ignore posts from topaz978. Show topaz978's posts

    Re: Dishonest, incompetent MBTA admits failure

    The gorilla is the portion of sales tax that they count as income. That is a direct state contribution. What needs to happen is to reduce state funding and force a sustainable system. Rides are up but there is still nowhere close to the income needed from tickets to fund this dog. Default would be a good option. Kill the pricey line extensions that will not pay. Kill the empty trains and buses. First stop the ferrys. This has been a big loser. Boats are too expensive and pointless. If you want to live there work at another job. This actually is best settled by yanking the pension chain in bankruptcy court. Too many high paid politicos spent a year or two in the mbta and pull plush pensions.
  9. You have chosen to ignore posts from AppDev. Show AppDev's posts

    Musical chairs for railroad bandits

    The previous comment seems to make the same mistake as most gripes about the MBTA and the former MTA for the last 65 years: focusing on where funds come from. A switch engineered by former Gov. Cellucci in 2000 was a similar mistake: trying to stop so-called "deficiency budgets," which started in 1949.

    Gov. Cellucci was the only Republican governor since Christian Herter, in the 1950s, to have substantial experience and close contacts in the General Court. He used that background to put through a change, assigning one-fifth of sales tax revenue to MBTA, expecting to stop deficiency budgets.

    The Cellucci plan held water for eight years. Then in a 2009 panic the General Court started pumping in $160 million a year: so-called "contract assistance." The surplus from that injection turned to a deficit in only three years, leading to the current emergency.

    The root of the problem has been incompetent management, allowing rapid and continued cost growth when ridership was not changing by much. Over 15 years of audited data starting in 1996, ridership grew about 15 percent, but the operating budget grew by more than a factor of two. [ National Transit Database, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2011, at ]

    The extra debt service added to MBTA costs in 2000 is a small part of the picture, dwarfed by an enormous, continuing pattern of cost growth under both Democratic and Republican governments. MBTA management has failed to keep costs in line with ridership and general inflation.

  10. You have chosen to ignore posts from topaz978. Show topaz978's posts

    Re: Dishonest, incompetent MBTA admits failure

    I have been involved enough to understand that accounting moves fungibles(cash) from a to b. You can stick any political label you want on it for your own purpose, does not matter. It is a transfer of tax money to support a function.
    The only thing left as an issue is whether more is better or a waste. I think, clearly this is a waste. The management has no intention of clearing the political trash from the pension system that is a part of the death spiral of finances that face this agency. That is what I am pointing to. The 800 person trains with 15 riders, the bus routes that are similar, this needs an axe. Nothing friendly about it. Ride the system or lose it, period. No pay no transit.
  11. You have chosen to ignore posts from AppDev. Show AppDev's posts

    A mystery...and a mess

    The previous reader claims to be "involved"--in some vague and unstated way--but apparently didn't know that taxpayer funds have subsidized Boston-area transit since days of the Boston Elevated Railway in the 1920s, long before public agencies that have run it since 1947. A little research before hitting the "Post" button could come in handy.

    We need public transit in and around a physically compact, congested core city and would not be able to maintain the economy of metropolitan Boston without it. At the same time, no matter how the bills are going to be paid, we need a transit system we can afford. A key mistake made by transit critics for decades has been to go after how revenue is labeled--an easy target--rather than how operating funds are used.

    That's the kind of caper former Gov. Cellucci tried in 2000: labeling money. Of course, it didn't work, because it addressed none of the roots of mismanagement. During the Cellucci administration, MBTA spending climbed at about the same, excessive rate as it had before--during the Weld administration--and as it did afterward--during the Swift, Romney and Patrick administrations.

    There is almost no transparency in MBTA finances. Before that there was none with the MTA or with the Boston Elevated Railway. All we can readily find out from federal records, which have been fairly consistent since the Clinton administration straightened them out for 1996, is that for 15 years ridership did not change by much while spending spiraled--growing steadily, at about twice the rate of inflation, from 1996 to 2010.

    People often claim to "know"--somehow--that some factor is to blame. Mr. Kane of the MBTA Advisory Board's staff claims to "know" debt service is to blame, but public information shows he is mostly wrong. Some say it's "union featherbedding" but hardly ever cite any evidence at all. Some, like the previous reader, claim the villain is "the pension system" without citing any information to make that credible. Others claim it is poor maintenance of equipment, without comparing MBTA operations to other transit agencies.

    This reader does not "know" why MBTA management is sick--only that it is very sick and has been sick for a very long time, through many changes in state administrations. Fifty years ago, state legislators were widely reported to use MTA as a patronage haven; maybe they still do. In any event, experience has shown that the General Court will not investigate MBTA effectively--any more than it will any other agency.

    With Joe DeNucci as Auditor and Robert Cerasoli as Inspector General, there were some searching reports on the Central Artery and Tunnel Project, but there was never anything even close to those efforts about MBTA. So far, actual workings of the agency remain a deep mystery to the public--although clearly a wretched mess.