Media Statement - NSRL Feasibility Reassessment

The MBTA’s cost estimate for the North South Rail Link (NSRL), released yesterday, is the most recent in a series of estimates for this project.  Those estimates, from under $4 billion to over $20 billion, run the gamut of construction methods, infrastructure choices, and cost assumptions. These huge disparities underscore that cost estimates for major infrastructure projects have to be assessed based on their underlying assumptions.  TransitMatters believes that there are many reasons yesterday’s cost estimates are as large as they are, not least the assumptions and selective comparisons employed by the MBTA’s consultant. 

In our report on Regional Rail (excluding the NSRL) we estimated the cost range of systemwide electrification, high platforms to enable level boarding, and strategic capacity improvements at bottlenecks to be about $2 to 3 billion. We stand by that estimate and do not believe the electrification and rolling stock costs estimated in yesterday’s MBTA presentation are consistent with the most relevant and appropriate comparative examples of which we are aware.  

We read yesterday’s presentation to the Fiscal Management and Control Board as an affirmation of our view that South Station expansion (SSX) should not move forward – it is, by any measure, too little bang for way too much buck.  The MBTA’s consultant now estimates SSX will cost $4.7 billion, money that simply does not need to be spent in order to improve the functionality of existing tracks at South Station. There are other, much lower cost approaches to improving operations at South Station as we indicated in our Regional Rail report, and we will offer more a more detailed roadmap to doing that in a follow-up report we expect to release in the early fall.

With regard to NSRL itself, we stated in our report, and repeat here: “cost estimates for NSRL, undertaken by MassDOT consultants and independent third parties, significantly vary in range. These variances often are attributable to consultants not comparing like-to-like or using different methodologies. The reality is that actual costs can vary greatly depending on the quality and complexity of project designs, labor costs, and many other factors. Massachusetts has learned valuable lessons in cost containment through its recent Green Line Extension experience, and we would expect the same rigorous approach to providing maximum value for reasonable cost to apply here as well.”

TransitMatters continues to believe that the only route forward for the MBTA is to advance a transition to Regional Rail, an electrified intercity rail system with frequent service during the day. The Regional Rail model is critical. While not critical to implementing a Regional Rail system, the NSRL would be a highly useful enhancement providing the flexibility and connectivity to which many riders and potential riders would be drawn. We hope and expect that a candid and open-minded conversation on both of these initiatives will continue.

Without a commitment to a new Business Model for intercity rail, our region will continue to experience crippling traffic congestion and people will be deprived of the kind of access to jobs and opportunity that is necessary for a thriving economy and decent quality of life.  We look forward to collaborating with the MBTA and all stakeholders as we make Regional Rail a reality.

Codcast 101 - Salvucci takes new tack on West Station

Transportation guru Fred Salvucci said on the Codcast that the proposed West Station is needed now to deal with congestion in Kenmore Square and the Seaport District, not future congestion caused by Harvard University's creation of a new neighborhood in the Allston Landing area.

Salvucci’s position is sharply at odds with the views of the Baker administration, which believes current ridership projections for the station are too low to justify building West Station in the near future. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack has said it would be wise to hold off on West Station until around 2040 when Harvard's development plans for the area are more fully formulated.

But Salvucci, who served 12 years as state transportation secretary under former governor Michael Dukakis and now teaches at MIT, said the transit connections offered by West Station are needed now to relieve existing congestion on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Codcast 100 - Salvucci traces decline of T to Weld administration

Fred Salvucci, one of the state’s most influential transportation officials, traces the decline of the MBTA to the early years of the administration of former governor William Weld.

Salvucci, who served 12 years as secretary of transportation under former governor Michael Dukakis and now teaches at MIT, said support for transit gained momentum after former governor Frank Sargent in the early 1970s brought a halt to new highway construction inside Route 128. Under Dukakis, Salvucci said, transportation officials turned their focus to extending the Red Line to Alewife, expanding the Orange Line, and burying the expressway through downtown, a project that came to be known as the Big Dig.

Throughout the 1980s, according to Salvucci, the MBTA built complicated transit projects and managed the system well. He said the successes were important. “If we had just succeeded in stopping bad things and not succeeded in getting some good things built, the bad things would have just come back,” Salvucci said during a Codcast hosted by Josh Fairchild and Jim Aloisi of TransitMatters

 

Media Statement - NightBus Overnight Bus Service Pilot

TransitMatters is grateful for today’s action by the FMCB to advance the NightBus overnight bus service pilot. We began our advocacy for NightBus in early 2016, developing what we believed was a cost-effective response to the MBTA’s decision to end the prior late night service. Over time we were joined by dedicated municipal co-sponsors from Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Revere and Chelsea. Our collaboration with an equally committed MBTA staff has led to this milestone achievement. Overnight bus transit in Greater Boston, open to all but designed primarily around the transit needs of the late night and early morning workers, needed to keep our city running; in short: NightBus will respond to the economic realities of a city and region that functions on a 24/7 basis.

It has been a long road since we first brought our NightBus concept to the T in March 2016 and now we are close to seeing the tangible results of that effort. Our thanks are extended to the FMCB, MBTA staff, the City of Boston & our other municipal co-sponsors, and all who supported us. We look forward to continued collaboration to provide the transit service people need, want and deserve in a city and region that never stops working.

Media Statement - Regional Rail Report

Today, transit advocacy group TransitMatters released its report calling for modernization of the MBTA Commuter Rail network and an updated business model as part of a larger reimagining of the service. ‘Massachusetts should commit to transitioning from its current Commuter Rail system to a Regional Rail system that offers frequent all day intercity rail service provided by clean electric-powered locomotives’, according to the report.

At a Beacon Hill press conference, TransitMatters President and co-founder Marc Ebuña said, “Our current Commuter Rail system is a vestige of mid-20th Century thinking, based on an antiquated assumption about the kind of mobility choices people expect to have. Many people today do not have 9 to 5 jobs; they require more flexibility from their transit system. Regional Rail offers that flexibility.”

The Regional Rail system recommended by TransitMatters is described in the report as “a reliable and more cost-effective intercity rail system based on a 21st century business model...operating more like a subway service with level platforms and frequent service all day.”  TransitMatters identified five critical components to the Regional Rail business plan: (1) systemwide electrification, (2) high platforms allowing faster and accessible boarding, (3) strategic infrastructure investments to maximize speed and reliability, (4) frequent all-day service – every half hour in the suburbs, every fifteen minutes in denser urban neighborhoods, and (5) fare rationalization, including free transfers between regional trains, subways and buses.

Board member Jarred Johnson explained that the recommendations for a new approach to providing intercity rail service “responds to the way people live today. We are doing our economy and our residents a disservice by continuing to operate and plan for an outdated Commuter Rail system. Our Regional Rail plan takes lessons learned from proven best practices across the US and globally, and offers a highly cost-effective approach to transitioning to a new system.”

According to the group, Regional Rail can begin with affordable pilots projects on the Providence Line — the Commuter Rail’s only electrified line — and the Fairmount Line. The group’s plan proposes cost-effective pilots for these lines as a way to prove the efficacy of the approach and to provide better service and social and environmental justice to Fairmount Line riders and corridor residents.

TransitMatters Board member Tim Lawrence observed that the report responds to the legitimate concern of the MBTA’s FMCB, that the current Commuter Rail system, carries too few riders at too high a cost. “We agree with that assessment,” said Lawrence. “Our plan for Regional Rail addresses this head on — by offering not just a vision, but a new business model. It’s that business model that will be a game changer, moving us away from the unacceptable status quo, and making our intercity rail system operate in a cost-effective, rider-responsive manner.”

The Regional Rail report can be downloaded from regionalrail.net.

Podcast Episode 31 - Ride Sharing, Taxis, and Transit

The TransitMatters Podcast returns from break with a discussion on Lyft and ride sharing services with special guest Tyler George, General Manager of Lyft Boston. Tyler has a spirited discussion with hosts Josh Fairchild, Jeremy Mendelson and recurring panelist, sound engineer (and former General Manager for both Zipcar's Chicago operation and for Hubway bike share here in Boston) Scott Mullen. Our discussion focused on ride sharing services and its effect on the Taxi industry and Transit. This episode was recorded in the studios of WMBR 88.1fm Cambridge, engineered by Scott Mullen, and edited by Charleston Sarjeant.

Like what you hear? Share it around, tell your friends and colleagues, and subscribe to the blog and podcast — through iTunes or Google Play. Support our work by becoming a member, donating, or volunteering.

Find out more about Josh, Jeremy, and other board members.

Send us your feedback by connecting with us on our various social media channels or contact us here.

Podcast Episode 30.5 - Ride-Along with Jim Aloisi to WGBH's The Scrum

Buses berth at Sullivan Square in Somerville, MA  [Photo via Flickr]

For this mini-episode of the podcast, we were joined by former Massachusetts Transport Secretary and TransitMatters Board Member Jim Aloisi. We both took a trip on transit from Haymarket Station to Brass Union in Somerville's Union Square.

This episode was recorded on 12 July in the lively environs of an Orange Line train, a CT2 bus, and under the I-93 overpass at Sullivan Square.

During the episode we talked about:

And finally WGBH's The Scrum episode we spent 40 minutes trekking to! You can watch our live recording of The Scrum on Periscope.

Like what you hear? Share it around, tell your friends and colleagues, and subscribe to the blog and podcast - through iTunes or Google Play. Support our work by becoming a member, donating, or volunteering.

Find out more about Jim Aloisi, me, and our other board members.

Send us your feedback by connecting with us on our various social media channels or contact us here.