The MBTA had a hectic couple of weeks. Former governors Michael Dukakis and William Weld publicly criticized the T, calling for more experts to handle a new Green Line Extension project. The state transportation board continued to grapple with canceling that Green Line extension, after the MBTA ended contracts with firms who had been working on the project. Several injuries were reported, and one woman died after being struck by a green line on Commonwealth Ave.
On Thursday morning, a “ghost train” Red Line took off, seemingly on its own, without a conductor. An investigation revealed that the train’s driver jerry-rigged the throttle, didn’t pull the emergency break, and got out of the vehicle—all “prohibited acts,” or fireable offenses. In one spark of good news, the two longtime MBTA employees who managed to stop the runaway Red Line were awarded citations from Governor Charlie Baker at the state house. “I’m just really glad that nobody got hurt,” Baker told Boston Public Radio during his monthly segment, Ask The Governor. “The operator and the dispatcher basically pushed all the trains that were ahead of this train out of the way, and then went through the process of sequentially shutting down various pieces of the third rail so that they could bring the train to a stop. They had a lot to do with why nobody got hurt.”
Governor Baker told the MBTA and the Fiscal Control Management Board to “let the facts take it wherever they went” which resulted in the firing of the “ghost train” Red Line driver. “You hesitate to jump to conclusions about this stuff, because it’s easy to do,” Baker said. “The one thing I’ve learned from our public safety people is, you really need to know the end of the trail with respect to investigations before you draw conclusions about what actually happened. But I knew by noon that it was an isolated incident that involved one driver, and that it was probably operator error, and that was the press conference that we had when I was down in Plymouth.”
The MBTA has been tackling more than just dramatic incidents this week—some dramatic changes are in the cards as well, and it looks like the late night MBTA service could be on the chopping block. “People need to remember that ‘late night T’ was basically three hours,” Baker said. “It was an extra hour and a half on Friday and Saturday night. It cost the MBTA $15 per rider, in subsidy for that, and the vast majority of people around the city are using other forms of transportation, Uber, Lyft, cabs, and stuff like that.”
MBTA officials have said they’re just about ready to cut the service, with none of the five members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board saying they think the service should stick around. “The ridership numbers just weren’t very big at all,” Baker said. “One of the things I would like to find out, and I think the MBTA is going to investigate this, is whether or not some of the Bridj, or Uber, or other [ridesharing] services that are out there could offer us a more comprehensive service that would be much more helpful in meeting what the public’s expectations and demands are with this.”
According to Baker, if late night T service as we know it is gone, there could be possibly be other options on the horizon. “The Fiscal Management Control Board and the MBTA made the decision to terminate the current way we do it,” Baker said, “but they’re going to take a look at some alternatives.” This could include lots of small vans, run by an outside, private contractor, the Governor said—But no more big trains. “If you want to call something “Late Night T Service” that actually runs for four hours a week, okay. But if we’re going to have a late night service, it ought to be a little more comprehensive than that.”
This summer, transportation officials announced the budget for a proposed Green Line extension through Somerville and into Medford had jumped to $3 billion. “If you go back to when this whole thing was proposed,” Baker said, “it was $950 million. Then it went to $1.2 billion, then $1.6 billion, then $2 billion, then $3. That makes me nervous.”
As of right now, “there really is no budget on this,” according to Baker. The next priority, after the MBTA fired all the contractors for the project, is figuring out the new cost of the project. “This isn’t going to take a couple of weeks,” Baker said. “This is going to take awhile to figure out. For the folks on the Fiscal Management Control Board, and the folks at the MBTA, there were three big issues; what happened, what are you going to do about it in the meantime, and what are you going to do about it going forward?”
Of course, there still exists a possibility of no Green Line extension at all.
“If the budget comes back and it’s $3.5 billion, or $4 billion… there are a million people who ride the core system, and it’s very important to me that we continue to spend a lot of money every single year on dealing with the deficiencies and the inadequacies of the core system,” Baker said. “I’m not going to be comfortable stealing, borrowing, taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the investments we need to make in a system that serves a million people for a spur. It’s an important spur, and I support the project at a certain price, that’s incrementally going to add 20,000 people, when those folks for the most part do have alternatives. They’re not as convenient, and not as quick as this one would be if we could do it for a reasonable price, but we’ve got to remember here, there’s a big operating system that serves a million people, and we need to put some serious money into it—and we are.”
To hear more of Governor Charlie Baker’s interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio links above.