Before testifying, A Better City would like to thank Secretary Pollack for her service to the Commonwealth and to wish her well in Washington. In addition, we would like to congratulate Acting Secretary Tesler and note that we look forward to working with him in the coming weeks.
Chairman Aiello, Members of the Board, General Manager Poftak, Secretary Pollack, thank you for the opportunity to submit public comment. Our testimony today focuses on fiduciary duty, specifically regarding the MBTA’s use of federal stimulus aid to preserve service during the pandemic, ensure prompt full restoration, and support a return to the workplace.
At the last meeting of this Board, General Manager Poftak reported that the MBTA was poised to receive $250-$300 million in additional federal relief. That brings the total federal aid package for the Authority up to over $1 billion.
I am going to repeat that: That brings the total federal aid package for the Authority up to over $1 billion.
As a result of the second injection of federal dollars, the General Manager announced that the T would allocate $17 million to roll back a limited number of service cuts that were set in motion in December as part of the Forging Ahead process.
Put another way, the MBTA will only commit roughly 6% of the second round of federal stimulus funds—or less than 2% of the over $1 billion dollars in federal aid it has received to date—to reverse service cuts. This rate of reinvestment for service restoration is puzzling and is having real-world impacts on transit-dependent workers.
Case in point are the service cuts that went into effect last Saturday on the Commuter Rail. Recent research and analysis by our Transportation Demand Management team has shown that thousands of hospital workers in Boston have retained active Commuter Rail passes and continue to rely on MBTA service. We are in close contact with our TMA members to understand the challenges that last weekend's cuts have created for these essential employees.
Further, the Commuter Rail cuts leave just a single rail line operating from North Station, which puts an outsized burden on workers coming from points north and northwest. Such lack of service will force those who are able to switch to driving, a cost intensive mode choice that tends to continue once the sunk costs are paid. Suspension of all but one Ferry line may prove to have the same effect. These riders may never return to the T. For those unable to drive, what then?
Recovery is around the corner with the vaccination roll out now underway and ongoing support from the federal government that promises to be more effective and deliver better results. Together with other targeted policies to get people back to work, the provision of full, safe, and adequate public transit is more important than ever. Unfortunately, the MBTA is on shaky ground with service level planning that is causing crowding on certain subway and bus lines and bakes in a long lead time for full service restoration.
The Commonwealth and MBTA region deserve an answer to why the Authority is holding back federal dollars in the operating deficiency fund rather than investing in the service restoration and capital projects necessary for the region’s short- and long-term economic recovery.