Historic Boston Snowfall Leads to Political Opportunity
The 2015 Boston “Snowmageddon” brought with it many unprecedented challenges, and arguably none of them greater than keeping public transportation running in the city. With the largest snowfall on record of more than 110 inches, most of which was condensed into a single month, the century old subway system collapsed. This collapse was the perfect political storm for Governor Charlie Baker who was barely in office a month, but whose campaign platform included in part cutting government spending and rolling back taxes. Several times during this historic winter, MBTA service was suspended. The system also fell victim to serious delays and cancellations for commuters who count on the T to get to and from work on a daily basis. Snow along the rail lines was one of the main issues and it simply could not be removed as quickly as it fell. And that wasn’t all; there were times commuters on the subway trains endured even more, like a situation in February 2015 where a Red Line train was stuck for hours in Quincy, forcing passengers to be evacuated after heavy snow blocked the tracks. As a result, Governor Baker appointed a special panel to look into the unprecedented collapse of the system. The panel’s report publicly blamed manpower issues and employees not reporting to work to be a main reason for the situation the MBTA was in, not the historic snowfall.
The Pioneer Institute
ALEC affiliate the Pioneer Institute, a conservative policy research center, has been a long time critic of the MBTA. Pioneer has released numerous scathing biased “reports” for more than a decade, and found this moment their opportunity. The winter of 2015 was the worst period of winter weather for the state since the Blizzard of 1978. In fact, it was the first time the MBTA shutdown services since Superstorm Sandy crashed into Massachusetts in the fall of 2012, bringing flooding conditions and high winds with it. Yet, in the middle of it all, on Feb. 5, 2015, the Pioneer Institute issued a report saying the MBTA was “broke and broken” and “structurally insolvent.” They called the breakdowns and late arrivals “unacceptable” and said “they are, in fact, the fault of multiple administrations and legislatures, as well as advocates who pushed the MBTA to expand faster than is reasonable – and without adequate funding to undertake, operate or maintain the projects.” Citing overexpansion, irresponsible oversight and management, and headcount growth at the T, they quickly recommended emergency legislation to fix the MBTA, including placing it in receivership and removing the power of the MBTA Board, as well as establishing a receivership board. Additionally, it broke down recommendations for combining receivership status with debt relief and strict controls on hiring. The legislature listened and as part of a budget deal the MBTA was put under the control of a Fiscal Management Control Board, which is in essence a quasi-receivership.
Taxpayer Protection Act (Pacheco Law)
MBTA Exemption Baker’s quest to “fix” the T included “MBTA Reform” and his desire to remove the MBTA from the Pacheco Law, a statute in place for more than two decades that simply required proof of savings as part of the process of contracting, or “privatizing” work normally done by public workers. Again, in July, the Pioneer Institute issued a report saying the Pacheco Law was costing the T hundreds of millions. But that just isn’t the case. Any contract bids that prove a private contractor will provide any savings, as small as a single dollar, while providing equal or better quality services have been previously “privatized” under the Taxpayer Protection Act. The legislature listened and as part of a budget deal the MBTA was exempted from the “Taxpayer Protection Act” for a three-year period.
Impact on Membership
Local 264 has more than 500 members employed at the MBTA, in good middle-class jobs. These are hard-working men and women who are, and always have been, a difference maker for bus transportation in the Greater Boston area. As an example despite being under-resourced the MBTA bus fleet “mean miles,” which is an industry measurement of quality, is consistently top in the nation against its peers. The MBTA does not have a bus maintenance problem; they just want it to cost less. The District 15/Local 264 leadership team, led by recently appointed Mass DOT board member Russell Gittlen, is working hard as a key stakeholder in the MBTA reform process. We are committed to improving the transportation system responsibly, while securing our membership for generations to come.