Take the T Tour!

There was an item in Globe reporter Eric Moskowitz’s Starts and Stops column yesterday about how the MBTA is now offering tours to the public of its Operations Control Center in Downtown Crossing, Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility in Somerville, and Subway Main Repair Facility in Everett. While reporting this story on how broken the MBTA is, I got the chance to tour the Operations Control Center and Subway Repair Facility earlier in the year, and fully endorse doing it. There are two reasons:

1. If, like me, you are utterly fascinated by blinking lights, the Operations Control Center is the place for you. There’s a two-story bank of giant maps and video screens with feeds from all over the system. One of these days I’m going to break in there on a Sunday and watch football. The Everett facility is also, for the 10-year-old in all of us, very cool. There’s lots of heavy machinery and fire and blacksmiths and all that. Good fun.

2. But here’s the real reason you should take the tours: they’ll show you that the T’s problem is not incompetence. It’s not graft. It’s not even laziness. Walk around these places and you’ll see people working hard and, often enough, taking real pride in what they do (granted, the employees there knew I was a reporter, but when I was going through the Everett shop, I was practically accosted by workers dying to tell me about their jobs). The T is in such godawful shape because it is underfunded and old. I’ve probably brought this example up a million times, but go in that Everett shop and you’ll see blacksmiths custom fashioning parts because the T’s fleet is so ancient that lots of equipment simply cannot be bought anywhere else. When I toured that facility, one of the managers told me that, to fix everything on the T that really needed to be fixed, he’d need a whole extra shift of workers. Given the MBTA’s $6 billion in debt, $3 billion in backlogged maintenance projects, and projected $161 million budget deficit for the upcoming year, it simply can not afford those extra workers right now.

With service only getting worse, there needs to be large-scale reform of the way the system is funded. In short, take these tours and you’ll see that we’re getting the T we’re paying for.