T sign

There is some nasty and brutish politicking going on in Boston regarding the leadershi of the MBTA, as Governor Patrick’s team tries to force out Romney appointee, General Manager Daniel Grabauskas.  I am in no position to make any meaningful commentary on the politics of the moment, but I am struck by how much of the controversy revolves around T financing.

The Authority has over $5 billion in debt, most of it loaded on from the Big Dig.  One third of the T’s annual $1.5 billion budget goes to debt payments.  That is insane.  Debt has caught up to the organization and now the T is “considering” levying a 19.5% fare increase and service reductions.

Here is where my opinion begins; it is ridiculous for public transit organizations to have to finance their own construction projects.  Public transportation organizations have a hard enough time financing day-to-day operations based on public subsidies and low-cost fares.  Government pays for road building without expecting car drivers to be saddled with debt.  The transit riding public and the organizations it trusts should not be saddled with this debt either.

When building new rails,  constructing new stations, investing in brand new types of vehicles, the financing should come from the state, not from the transit institution (that is without a dramatic change in how agencies are financed).  Maintenance, repairs and general upkeep and improvements should intelligently be paid for by agency budgets.  However, to burden our transportation agencies with billions of dollars in debt from construction and new projects serves neither the agency nor the ridership and the greater areas and economies that depend on such transit adequately.