No One Is Happy with the MBTA Closure

But who to blame?
mbta red line closure

Photo via AP

Nearly everyone agrees that the MBTA’s cancellation of rail service all day today is, as Governor Charlie Baker put it, “unacceptable.” The question, then, is “where should we file our complaints?”

Facing mechanical failures in an onslaught of snowfall, the T announced Monday that it would close at 7 p.m. and remain out of service through Tuesday. The cancellation on a day when the governor has asked people to stay off the roads leaves many people unable to get to work, even on a day when it’s no longer snowing. Surprised travelers arrived to South Station last night unable to get home. Tweets with the hashtag #MBTAfail had already been proliferating, and they gained new steam.

“We’ve been frustrated, disappointed with the performance of the T,” Governor Charlie Baker said at a midday press conference, even before the T announced it couldn’t operate all tomorrow. “The public transportation system has to work. Let’s face it, this can’t happen again.”

Baker continued, “The first time that happens you can blame it on the weather, but after a while it starts to feel like something more.”

It is, of course, something more. A decades-long inability to update and invest in the MBTA’s infrastructure. A Globe explainer delves into the outmoded direct current technology that has yielded Red and Orange line train failures en masse Monday. An MTA spokesman noted that the average age of an MTA car in New York City is 19 years, meaning, as the Globe writes, “the newest cars on Boston’s Red Line are older than the average car in New York.” Then there are the older cars, the ones that lived through the blizzard of 1978.

Who to blame? David Bernstein points to state legislators, especially those outside of Boston who see spending on the city’s transit system as a loss of potential dollars for their hometowns. Others point to the voters who knocked down a gas tax that would have provided some automatic funding to the public transit system last year. Still others point out that Baker has proposed cutting $14 million from the MBTA’s budget. He defended the decision saying it wouldn’t have an impact on service.

Whoever it is that failed to put the money into the T it would need to stand up to snow like the kind we’ve had this winter, they don’t seem likely to change their tune much. As columnist Joan Vennochi writes, “the T needs huge public investment, at the same time Baker is dealing with a $786 million state budget deficit, while promising no new taxes and more disciplined spending.”

The non-profit Transportation for Massachusetts started a petition to ask the government to invest in public transit, and more than 2,000 people have signed. A half-joking GoFundMe campaign has asked people to donate $30 million and their souls to the cause. But this isn’t the T’s first bad performance in bad weather. And like snow itself, public outrage may well melt away before anyone offers to invest money into the system.


Eric Randall
Eric Randall Eric Randall, Contributor at Boston Magazine ericrandall988@gmail.com