Governor Baker’s winter resiliency plan for the MBTA is a strong first step toward ensuring that we won’t have to endure another seasonal meltdown of our public transportation system.  The plan, which invests a combination of federal and state funds to the tune of $82.7 million, addresses some of the weakest spots in the system and imposes an organizational focus and discipline that were not in evidence in January and February. We need to begin somewhere, and this is a good beginning.

Perhaps unwittingly, this plan proves the point many of us have been trying to make over the past several years: improving the MBTA’s old systems doesn’t come free.  Adequate funding is necessary to get anything meaningful done – in this instance, almost $83 million dollars worth is necessary.  It would be great if we lived in a world where hard choices never had to be made, where infrastructure once built stayed in pristine condition, where the costs of reinvestment were modest and easily manageable - but alas, we live in the real world, and that world is filled with a mind-boggling menagerie of inconvenient truths and stubborn facts.  Leadership requires confronting those facts and truths head-on and candidly, and by taking this action the Governor has shown a willingness to lead.

There are, of course, larger issues at play in connection with our public transportation system.  The Administration’s own numbers speak to a backlog of state-of-good-repair needs in excess of six billion dollars.  The dimensions of the need to reinvest in the system are too large to be accomplished in one fell swoop.  A determined, annual commitment to investing in the T is necessary in order to reverse the effects of decades of disinvestment and decline. 

There are ways to begin a sustained funding program for reinvestment in public transportation, and it begins with reversing the auto-centric bias that continues to inform and influence how we allocate our limited transportation resources.  We are no longer living in a time when the “American dream” means a job in the city and an easy commute home along an uncongested highway to our smart single family home in the suburbs, complete with green grass, perky dog, and white picket fence.  That’s a Mad Men era vision, totally out of synch with our times. 

Today, the dream – if indeed it can be called that – is about living and working amid the energy of the city, with a menu of equally reliable mobility choices that respond to a generational desire to be healthier and more egalitarian.  That means a larger focus on transit, bicycling and walking. All of the signs and trend lines prove this, but our transportation funding remains out of balance, catering to an auto-centric view of the world.

Breaking the hold of the automobile on our transportation thinking won’t come quickly or easily, but it must come, or we will be at risk of losing people and jobs to those places that are embracing 21st century mobility paradigms.  Boston’s been a backwater before, during mid 20th century when it held on too long to old ways of thinking and doing business.  We were lucky to have a succession of great leaders – Hynes, Collins, and White – who led us out of that valley.  Why should we push our luck again?

James Aloisi is a former Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and a Principal in the Pemberton Square Group.