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Garrett Wollman @garrett_wollman
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Hey, guess what? It's time for my weekly summary of the @MBTA FMCB meeting. No meeting the next two Mondays because of the holidays, and the meeting was jam-packed. Scheduled start time was 11:00 but the @MassDOT Capital Programs Committee didn't release the room until 11:15ish.
I have nine pages of notes in addition to the written version of my own comments. The meeting started with two items pushed up on the schedule ahead of the public comments. First up was a retirement citation for the MassDOT highway division's chief snow and ice engineer.
Second up was Gina Fiandaca and Vineet Gupta of @BostonBTD talking about transit elements of the Go Boston 2030 plan. Gupta did most of the speaking. He started with an explanation of the three primary areas BTD wants to focus its transportation efforts on.
The first area is access: goal is for 100% of the city's population to be within a 10 minute walk of frequent transit, bikeshare, car share, and other mobility services.
The second area is "reliability", for which they adopted an unusual definition; the goal is a 10% reduction in average commute times. Third area is safety, with a goal of zero traffic fatalities. Gupta then went on to talk about some completed and in-progress projects.
He mentioned what they're calling "rapid bus projects", with the existing Washington St. (Forest Hills to Roslindale) bus lane project highlighted. Other projects in progress are N. Washington St. (Charlestown), Brighton Ave. (Allston), and Washington St. (Silver Line).
Gupta highlighted some additional future projects, including Mattapan to LMA corridor, Washington St. (Brighton), North Station to South Boston waterfront, and Mass. Ave. (to complement work done by Cambridge on the other side of the river).
In 2019 BTD will be launching "Neighborhood mobility hubs", a program to combine bikeshare, car-sharing, and managed parking near or in some cases inside MBTA rapid transit stations and key bus stops.
The city has some questions regarding how responsibility for the bus service improvements should be divided: who does the design, installation, and maintenance of paint and signage? What performance measures are applied? Who enforces traffic restrictions?
He then moved on to some rail network discussions. Boston wants to see improved Fairmount service in the short run and the Red/Blue Connector built. He notes that working on traffic signal priority for the Green Line has given BTD the opportunity to do some intersection redesign.
Closing comment: "Keep an eye on the future" -- which BTD suggests is means more rail service..
Then came the delayed public comment period. Christiana Lacusa of @StreetsBoston spoke about the Chelsea task force, and the group's concern that the T not backslide on progress made in recent months under former GM Luis Ramirez.
Lacusa commends the board for supporting the continued existence of a dedicated governing board for the T composed of subject-matter experts, but asserts that the riders, particularly vulnerable communities, need a representative to complement the finance and engineering wonks.
Lacusa reiterates her comments from last time that the people and businesses of Allston want permanent bus priority improvements for Brighton Ave., not another pilot. Says enough pilots have been done, doesn't want a repeat of the commuter-rail weekend-pass issue.
I then spoke about the urgent need for decarbonization of transportation infrastructure. I noted Friday's CARB vote to require CA transit systems to phase out diesel buses as one example of peer cities and regions which are taking aggressive action.
I asked the board to make yearly GHG reductions a KPI for the MBTA's senior management, and to direct management to move towards full systemwide electrification without delay, including a permanent end to purchases of diesel-powered revenue vehicles.
I also reiterated my written comments from last week that the T should be looking to extend, rather than tear down, trolleybus wires, and that charge-in-motion battery buses should be procured to service high-volume routes which had previously been operated as trams and ETBs.
One reason for doing this is to limit the electrical capacity required for overnight charging on those routes which can support and benefit from investment in permanent infrastructure. I was followed by Beatrice Bell, who raised two issues related to ADA.
Bell first complained about MBTA Police "harrassment" of power wheelchair users who need to charge their chairs in a station. She then talked about ongoing issues with missed paratransit pickups, which, she says, were being misreported to dispatch as "passenger not present".
Paul Regan of the advisory board complimented the staff on the advertising campaign for the $10 weekend pass pilot, and spoke in more detail about the group's proposal for later trips on the Old Colony Line.
The proposal does not include new trips, merely a rescheduling of existing trips so that the last trip leaves South Station later in the evening. Regan says all the communities along the line were on board with the change except Weymouth, which did not have a formal response.
Louise Baxter of the T Riders Union spoke next, and said she agreed with the comments of Beatrice Bell. Baxter also said that director Poftak's seat should be filled by someone to represent environmental justice communities.
Access advocate Marilyn McNabb spoke next, and reiterated support of Beatrice Bell. She spoke about the Better Bus Project, South Station congestion, and architectural barriers to access at some bus stops. She asked for capeFLYER service to stop at JFK/UMass.
Next up were five speakers from the Chelsea advocacy group Green Roots. Paula Garrity hopes that incoming GM Poftak will have conversations with bus riders, ensure that bus managers are properly trained and informed about service issues, and maintain the Chelsea working group.
Garrity specifically asks for better communication with riders when planning service changes. A Spanish-speaking bus rider then speaks through an interpreter; she is concerned about AFC 2.0 phasing out on-board cash payments, notes many Chelsea residents are unbanked.
She asks specifically for fare vending machines that accept cash to be widely distributed in the city. The next speaker expresses gratitude for improved interaction in recent months, specifically calling out the chief of customer service for thanks.
This speaker raises the issue of the Chelsea St. drawbridge and its effect on schedule adherence for the bus routes that use it. She also wants riders, and more specifically riders of color, represented on the board, and asks for fare mitigation.
She seems to be under the mistaken impression that the commuter rail only serves rich communities (Lawrence and Brockton would beg to differ) and was angered that the board last week wanted to avoid doing equity analysis on the $10 weekend pass pilot before making it permanent.
The final Green Roots speaker, the group's associate executive director, responds directly to @brianshortsleev's comments at last week's meeting that the authority should entirely cut the bottom quintile of worst-performing bus routes.
She proposes that, rather than eliminating routes, the T should be making sufficient investment to fix problems with these routes, and bring performance up to standard. I doubt this is likely to win over Shortsleeve.
She also noted that last week's Better Bus presentation noted that Chelsea was one of five cities where *no* MBTA buses meet the current (very lax) service standards. She also wants EJ communities to have a representative on the board when Poftak's seat is filled.
(Aside: given that the board is directly appointed by the governor, I'm not sure why all these speakers are giving their opinion to the remaining members about who should fill that seat. It's not like Baker was watching the livestream.)
Next up, Will Justice of T Riders Union speaks about disinvestment in Roxbury, also wants PoC and community representation on the board, and has concerns about AFC 2.0 not having enough opportunities for cash-only riders.
Catherine Carlson, director of transportation for @ABetterCity spoke about Rail Vision. She says the *base case* for 2040 should be full electrification, frequent bidirectional all-day service, full high-level platforms, and fare reform. She is on the Rail Vision advisory board.
Carlson notes that only one of the six Rail Vision scenarios even remotely addresses running an actual modern rail transit system that serves everyone, says the other scenarios are at best transitional models on the way to full implementation. (I'll have more to say below.)
The next speaker is the chair of the Fairmount Transit Coalition and also a Four Corners (Dorchester) group, but I didn't catch their name. Concerned that Ramirez' departure could roll back progress on promised Fairmount Line service improvements.
They also talk about marketing for the soon-to-open Blue Hill Ave. station on the Fairmount Line, and have concerns about capacity relating to the Franklin Line trains that run via Fairmount being too full to accept Dorchester passengers. Training issues wrt youth/student passes.
This speaker also wants to see more diversity on the FMCB, and is concerned about plans for cash fare vending under AFC 2.0 given the difficulty of maintaining Charlie Card availability in Ashmont area -- says many are paying the higher Charlie Ticket because cards unavailable.
That's the end of the public comments, and the board moves on to the regular agenda. @spoftak won't take over as General Manager until January 1, so deputy GM Jeff Gonneville is introuced as acting GM (no mention is made of @LMRAMIREZCEO by any members of the board).
Gonneville leads with the Green Line Type 9 procurement. All car shells are complete; units 3 through 12 are undergoing final assembly in Elmira, NY, and cars 1 and 2 have been delivered and entered acceptance testing. Car 1 will enter revenue service this week; #2 in January.
Gonneville continues with a Silver Line study being performed jointly with Massport, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2019, before moving on to last weekend's emergency response exercise at Fenway portal on the D Line (which was already busing for construction).
Gonneville concluded with the staff "Fill-a-Bus" charity event. Next agenda item is an update on the Chelsea Task Force, which starts with a discussion of the Chelsea St. drawbridge, used by routes SL3, 116, and 117. Coast Guard currently requires the bridge be "open on demand".
The T and MassDOT are working on a pilot application to USCG that will allow a two-hour period during morning and evening rush when the bridge does not open. The pilot will only run for six months and there are substantial regulatory hurdles to permanently changing the schedule.
Chairman Aiello asks about previously contemplated bridge improvements that would allow more vessels to pass at night. Presenter responds that the maritime community is unsure whether this would even be helpful, given the nature of ship traffic to the Chelsea Creek oil terminals.
This is followed by a colloquy on the Chelsea commuter rail ridership, but AGM Gonneville asks to postpone that until the updated commuter-rail ridership counts are vetted and published (which is supposed to happen before EOY), agrees to come back next time with that info.
Next up, @LaurelinTransit gets up one more time to talk about the early morning bus pilot, a presentation postponed from last week's meeting. The results are close to ridership and financial projections, except for budgeted paratransit expense which did not materialize.
Across all of the pilot routes, there were 907 new trips, with additional ridership representing existing trips that were shifted earlier, reflecting rider preferences for earlier arrival times. The operating subsidy is $1.46 per trip, vs. $1.62 systemwide in this daypart.
@Steph_Pollack emphasizes that metrics were defined in the board's policy on pilot service and in the specific approval for this service, and the board needs to be clear and consistent about how they define a successful pilot. Aiello asks why there is no equity analysis required.
Laurel PS responds that *this particular* pilot meets the established criteria for a "minor service change", analogous to the schedule adjustments made every quarter, and unlike major service or fare changes those don't require equity analysis.
The board votes to make the new early morning bus service permanent, allowing planners to include it in the spring schedule pick for drivers. (It would otherwise have ended automatically.)
Next up is a quick vote on the FMCB's annual report to the legislature, which is approved for transmittal. It's on the web at…
The board unexpectedly goes into executive session for an item not listed on the public agenda, and I head out to burn my tongue on a slice of pizza from the food court. The board returns to public session at 13:05 with a discussion of a TOD project at North Quincy station.
The proposal is a 99-year land lease with Hancock St. Partners, LLC, as tenant and developer, with a side agreement on construction of a new garage. The full project includes an 852-space MBTA garage and busway, 610 residential units, and ground-floor retail in three buildings.
The MBTA gets full ownership of the garage, which also includes 115 spaces for retail tenants and 332 spaces for residents. 290 of the MBTA's spaces will be shared with retail tenants (available if not occupied by commuters), and there's a cost-sharing agreement for repairs.
Starting in year 3 (when construction is substantially complete), the developer will pay the MBTA $540,000 annually with a 2.5% annual escalator. The board authorizes management to execute the lease and garage contracts. At 13:15 the MassDOT board joins the meeting.
First up, Sec. Pollack introduces a new MassDOT board member. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing on her, not even her name, not even in a press release, on the @MassDOT web site, so I don't have much to report. She is apparently an engineer at the MWRA.
FMCB chair Aiello then gave the Control Board's statutorily required report to the DOT board. The two boards then heard a report on the "tracker", an annual report on performance metrics aligned with federal and state reporting requirements.
This year, the "tracker" moved to a responsive-design web platform, as opposed to the historic printed document, which launched today at It provides interactive charts with a drill-down feature.
Next, Steve Kadish, chair of the Governor's Commission on the Future of Transportation, gave a presentation on the commission's report, which was released last Friday. He notes that since the global financial crisis, Massachusetts has added 356,000 jobs (most in metro Boston).
Kadish talks a bit about the population growth estimates which were discussed at last month's board meeting, noting that an additional 600,000 people are expected to live in Mass. by 2040 ("another Boston", he says), and that the fraction of population 65+ is expected to double.
Kadish notes that the transportation sector is the only part of the energy economy currently projected to increase its CO2 emissions over the planning period, emphasizes the need to bend that curve. Notes that the Chinese have taken the lead in transportation electrification.
Kadish then gets into the scenarios that the commission looked at, different models for how adoption of technology and growth of employment and housing might play out, before getting into a subset of the commission's conclusions of specific relevance to the two boards.
#1: Emphasis is on high frequency, high capacity public transit. EVs cannot carry the entire mobility burden and AVs are unlikely to be ready.
#2: Prioritize human throughput of transportation infrastructure, not vehicle counts.
#3: Manage congestion, "the full set of options" should be on the table for responding to the congestion crisis.
#4: Accelerate efforts to consume transportation services differently (mobility as a service, on-demand mobility, micro-mobility)
#7: Prioritize statewide coverage for EV charging infrastructure
#9: All new vehicles sold should be zero-emission ("or equivalent") by 2040.
#11: Prioritize resilience for critical infrastructure: retrofit/adaptation and also in design of new facilities
#15: Coordinate rail service improvements with local and regional land-use planning.
#17 was about governance (I didn't write down the exact takeaway) and #18 was a "fiscally sound responsible plan" for resourcing transportation construction and operations.
MassDOT director Tim King called it a "pivotal moment". Director (and Braintree mayor) Joe Sullivan called it "thought provoking", and emphasized electrification, commuter rail improvements, "position us for our future".
Secretary Pollack raised a structural problem in MassDOT that no division or office "owns" climate, technology, or mobility-as-a-service issues, which creates problems with coordination and incentives.
FMCB chair Aiello asks how the boards can get the General Court to look beyond the immediate five-year funding cycles and give longer-term attention (and budgeting cycles) to these longer-term issues.
The final item on the joint board agenda is an update on Rail Vision. I missed the advisory committee last week (it was scheduled much too early). As I noted earlier, Rail Vision seems to be anything but visionary.
There are six service alternatives presented, with another two still in development; all eight will be presnted at the January joint board meeting for approval to move on to the next stage.
Of the six alternatives presented today, only half involve modern equipment, and only one complements that with modern operating practices -- typical sandbagging. No alternative considers running more than 4 trains per hour per line, which most advocates regard as a *minimum*.
The presentation uses the term "regional rail" to means something entirely unlike #RegionalRail but I can't tell what exactly, other than that it involves diesel locomotives. All alternatives assume symmetric (bidirectional) service, signal upgrades, West Station and South Coast.
Basic takeaway here is that Rail Vision is everything that transit advocates feared: unambitious and deliberately structured to ensure that the Right Thing will not even be considered.
Pollack defends the inclusion of all the alternatives that no competent European or Asian transport administrator would consider in the 21st century. Another management failure: it's actually possible to learn from other countries, but you wouldn't know it from Rail "Vision".
Aiello urges the team to look at the business plan done for the reform (and electrification) of the Toronto-area commuter network. Pollack spreads FUD about catenary, as if no advanced country ever has winter storms or hurricanes.
There was some more discussion that I did not write down, and the FMCB then rose (having already lost its quorum). As it was already 2:30 I did not stick around for the MassDOT-only part of the meeting.
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