Some people elsewhere in the world might know (listening IOC?), but in case you don’t, the Northeast U.S. and, notably, the greater Boston, MA, area got slammed with unprecedented snow in the past few weeks. Meteorologically, it was Arctic air coming up against warmer air which was pumped full of moisture from unprecedently high sea-surface temperatures (“SSTs”) from waters to the east of Cape Cod. Historically, sure, Boston hasn’t had anything like this, compressed in time, ever, but it has had snow, and quite a bit of it. So, in a shock to their patrons, the area’s light rail system, the MBCR and MBTA (the “T“), which serves the people of Boston and its near, enclosed cities, as well as many suburbs, simply was crushed by the weather even, with engines failing, cars failing, and struggles to keep tracks and rails clear. The head of the MBTA resigned. The company elected to run the MBCR (privitization!), Keolis, has been fined $3.3 million since 1st January 2015. (They were assessed at least $388 thousand in fines in 2014, too.) This has all resulted in commuters making repeated, heroic efforts to get to work in center city, Boston. Some, like me, are fortunate they can work from home. Many can’t.
I can’t all the time, either, especially when there are customer meetings in town. I have one next Thursday, beginning at 0830, and I’m beginning to consider whether it may not be prudent to book a hotel room close to work simply to make it on time. Maybe I should charge it to work?
Many people live in the suburbs of Boston. That’s typically for any great city, e.g., Washington, DC. The choice to work at a particular job in a particular location is, in part, contingent upon there being a reasonable way of getting their. In my employer’s case, while there is a parking garage nearby, there is no way it has capacity for a car for every employee who works in Cambridge. Car-pooling is encouraged, but car-pooling only works if you can leave on time. Work hours in office or at home are seldom that clean, especially departure times. And many of us commute by public transport because, well, the congestion on the government-maintained highways is horrible, not to mention the environmental preference of using public transport versus everyone driving.
Today, I overheard a colleague wistfully remark (in an electronic chat) she wished my employer had an office someplace outside of Cambridge, in the suburbs, so this kind of problem could be avoided. No doubt, the disruption in work schedules is impacting profitability, let alone employee morale, as well as, say, child care schedules and after-school activities, especially ones where a parent needs to ferry a child to them. Implicit in her comment is the threat poor public transport poses to the viability of the city center for business.
I chatted with a fellow passenger a week back, leaving the Route 128 Station on MBCR for South Station. The train was late, due to some of these troubles, and I suggested that I understood the financial mess the MBTA-MBCR were in, not their fault, and that I, at least, was willing to pay much higher ticket prices so they could get well. I explained that San Francisco has BART and DC has their Metro, and that Boston deserves a world-class public transport system, which it presently lacks. The passenger works on State Street which, for those who don’t know, is a code word for meaning he works for a financial services company. In other words, he’s not doing too badly. His attitude was why should he pay more when the public picks up the tab. He voted against a continued inflation indexing of a tax on gasoline to help support public transport. He’ll take what he can, and does not want to pay any more than he absolutely has to. And, like many, at least portrayed in Boston media, he thinks the union membership of MBTA-MBCR employees is to blame for poor service. At least so he says, even if it makes no logical sense. (Unions don’t cause train engines to bust in snow. The Commonwealth trotted out prisoners to help clear the snow from the rails recently.)
But facts are that many private entities, notably biopharm and technology companies, do well because they can be centrally located in Boston or Cambridge, and have their employees come to them, co-located with many other technology companies. The Commonwealth already does a lot for them, notably in honoring their strict employment agreements (unlike California, where these are illegal). Accordingly, rather than the taxpayers of Massachusetts picking up the tabs for the public transport system, which is clearly underfunded, it only makes sense for the companies which benefit from the service to pay for that. After all, we want privitization, right? It’s the conservative thing, right, to pay for what you use and benefit from, and not rely upon a handout from the Commonwealth? Either that, or build out away from city center in the suburbs.
People choose where they work based in part on where it is. Want to be attractive to highly skilled technical employees? Build where it suits them. Or help pay for the mass transit which gets them to where you need them.
Governor Baker has nothing, really, to do with any of this. The Commonwealth legislature is at fault more than he is. Baker’s attitude and management style aren’t helpful, but that has little to do with the fundamental problems.