By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

If that’s what it takes

Just days after MBTA general manager Dan Grabauskas complained about an anti-gay e-mail he’d received from a Department of Correction employee, the Herald’s Casey Ross reports that the T has been canceling runs without bothering to tell anyone for, uh, years.

Bob Metcalf, commenting at Universal Hub, thinks it’s no coincidence. He’s probably right. But if that’s what it takes to expose this miserable little secret about why the T is so bad, then so be it.

The Outraged Liberal: “Smilin’ Dan has GOT to go — and soon.”

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  1. Peter Porcupine

    Wasn’t it seven MONTHS of emails that the Governor failed to address?Te T has never recovered from the introduction of forward funding – that is, acutally having a budget instead of running up whatever costs it might like and sending the state a bill which must be paid. Legislators have nixed fare hikes, and without the ability to run a defecit, the trains were cancelled.Beats the heck out of subsidizing their inefficiency. It’s time T riders understood the true cost of the system.

  2. Neil

    I don’t follow the “no coincidence”. What exactly is not a coincidence? Some crank writes anti-gay email, and also says the T has been dropping service, and…G then reveals that indeed the T has been dropping service? What’s the connection.And, Porcupine, while we’re at it, let’s stop subsidizing our highway system too. It’s time car commuters understood the true cost of the system.

  3. Anonymous

    I’d be curious to see exactly which routes were canceled. Is it, again, the inner city lines that bear the brunt of this?Like him or not, if this has been going on for years and he knew it, or even if he didn’t (he should have), he should go.

  4. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    Well if the ‘true cost of the system’ needs to be seen by T riders, perhaps drivers ought to see the ‘true cost’ of highways — which will be dramatically higher if the MBTA is not an attractive alternative.Transportation into and out of major cities is an area in which the private sector has flat-out failed. We build roads because it’s “good for business.” But we’d need a lot more roads (more public subsidy for business) without a balanced transportation system.

  5. R. Scott Buchanan

    A lot of costs are invisible to users, PP. None of us would ever fly again if the true costs of subsidies to the airline industry were lain upon end users’ shoulders (see the $15b bailout of 2001 for the most egregious recent example). Likewise, making motorists pay use taxes in proportion to the damage their cars do would make SUV use drop like a rock. But neither one is going to happen any time soon because it really isn’t in anyone’s best interest except mine (full disclosure: I work part time in-season at a bike shop) to make people incredibly reluctant to travel farther than they can under their own steam.Meanwhile, last time I looked the bus routes through some of the poorest areas of the city were close to paying for themselves. Seldom is a bus on route 39 (formerly the E train on the green line) not packed to bursting, even when they’re allegedly running mere minutes apart. Cost inefficiencies in the system there are basically managerial (e.g. still not getting good fare collection compliance despite Charlie), not endemic.That despite the very sharp fare increases in 2007 which did a lot to discourage people from taking frivolous trips or to consolidate errands, resulting in a slight up-tick in revenues, but a net downturn in heavy rail usage as customers shifted toward the cheaper buses and trackless trollies. Based on this I’d say the costs of the system are plainly apparent to the users, even if they don’t pay for it at a rate of 1:1.

  6. Aaron Read

    I am inclined to agree that Grabauskas will likely be forced out over this one…it’s too much of a punch in the gut to the public to ignore.But I am conflicted as to whether this process never should have happened in the first place. Okay, for a moment let’s assume that this practice has been in place for a long time…much longer than Grabauskas has been there. It reflects a culture of corruption at every single level, from the grunts driving the buses all the way up to the top.Now Dan’s appointed head of the MBTA. He’s got a rep as the guy who cleaned up the RMV. And no doubt he learns about this policy pretty soon after he starts.What does he do?The simple answer is that he goes public, uses his honeymoon effect to roll the backlash off on previous general managers, fires some midlevel folks to make it look good, and that’s that.Except that doesn’t stop the practice because, again, it’s a mindset at all levels, not just the managers. And a public spectacle doesn’t change the budget problems…not at that stage, anyways – the fares need to be hiked a few times to up the heat on the pols from voters, first.Worse, it guarantees a short and ineffectual term for Grabauskas because he’s shown that his policy is to attack his own people. While that might be called for, it also just causes the entire system to close ranks and guarantees that nothing ever really changes.In theory, if Grabauskas had the political backing to REALLY reform things, this wouldn’t be a problem. But he doesn’t and never did and everyone knew it; nobody has enough political capital to fire about 50% of the employees at the T…at ALL levels…to eliminate all the useless patronage hires. And then you’d still have to increase the budget by an order of magnitude to refill all the emptied positions, not to mention all the already-empty positions that really need filling to maintain service. It’d be like asking Boston to have no subways or buses for about five years while everything was being fixed…the outrage over that would be deafening.So instead Grabauskas plays it cool; he knows he can rip the lid of this if he needs to…and so does everyone else…but he doesn’t. He builds trust. He gets the rank and file to give him political capital for the times he’ll really need it. He works behind the scenes to phase out the practice. Gradually it gets better.In theory his approach is actually the better one because it achieves the result people want: ending the secret cancellations of routes.Of course, in reality nothing’s that cut and dried…but I wouldn’t automatically condemn Grabauskas over this. As the saying goes, don’t hate the player, hate the game.More bloviating on the subject is on my own blog, if you’re so inclined.

  7. Aaron Read

    Neil – the “coincidence” is that Grabauskas publicly announced he wanted to go after this guy because the guy was hurling anti-gay slurs at Grabauskas (who is openly gay).Soon after Grabauskas says he’s going to go after the guy, the guy reveals this ugly, ugly practice of secret cancellations…a relevation that likely will mean the end of Grabauskas’s career as head of the MBTA.And since it’s the truth and Grabauskas knows damn well people will confirm it’s the truth before long, he goes public and admits it’s the truth in a gamble that a big “mea culpa” will help soothe the angered masses.It probably won’t, but it’s the only choice he had.In other words, this was retaliation by the anti-gay guy against Grabauskas, pure and simple.

  8. Aaron Read

    (shameless self promotion ahead!) :-)Maybe it’s because I’m wielding the heart-shock paddles, but this story just won’t die.Similarly, it appears that like his predecessor, Mac Daniel, Noah Bierman will be using the kid gloves when it comes to reporting on the MBTA. Durn shame.

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