While waiting for the Red Line into work at the Wollaston station recently, a fellow commuter struck up a conversation. We talked about the Red Sox and Yankees, Mac Jones and Tom Brady, and — much to my chagrin — his belief that I was eligible for the Senior CharlieCard.  

Then the conversation pivoted to the topic I’m sure many people waiting on the platform that morning were thinking about: the previous day’s derailment at the Broadway station.  

“You think it’s safe?” he asked me, referring to the MBTA.   

“Yes,” I replied. “But there’s still a lot of work we have to do.” 

I can’t help but wonder how many other passengers asked themselves the same question that morning. 

Far too often, the MBTA makes the wrong kind of news: a Red Line car derails; nine commuters are injured in an escalator malfunction; more than 20 commuters are injured when a Green Line train crashes into another car; a Boston University professor falls to his death through a staircase near a Dorchester T station.  

And these are just the most recent headlines. 

Statistically, we know we are much less likely to get injured riding the T than driving or biking to work. I know I can tell my fellow passengers that yes, the T is still safe to ride. But incidents like these cannot be ignored, nor can we ignore last month’s report by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which forecasted the MBTA is racing towards a “fiscal calamity” if it does not find in excess of $1 billion in annual new revenues. 

As we, I hope, near the end of the ongoing pandemic, the Commonwealth must support MBTA leadership as they work with riders and others to improve the system and prioritize planning for what the MBTA should look like in the “new normal” we all keep hearing about. For the MBTA, a “new normal” should translate to a system that is safer, more environmentally friendly, climate resilient, more accessible, more affordable, and serving a greater area. 

Fortunately, we are in a unique position to effect meaningful changes. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Commonwealth has roughly $5 billion in federal funding to tackle major policy issues. While the Legislature and Governor have committed substantial funds to the MBTA through the annual budget and state bond funding, it is clear that additional funding is needed over the next several years. These unprecedented one-time ARPA funds   can make the capital improvements our trains, tracks, and stations need without putting a strain on passengers through higher fares or service cuts.   

We need to make investments, and now is the time to make them.  

Additionally, to ensure that the funds invested in the MBTA are wisely expended and that it is sustainably funded, we need effective long-term management and oversight. With the dissolution of the Fiscal and Management Control Board earlier this year, the Commonwealth now must aggressively seek suitable candidates to fill the MBTA’s new Board of Directors. With requirements that the Board include members with backgrounds in safety, operations, finance, ridership, and labor, the Board is poised to assist MBTA leadership in identifying and preventing problems before they happen. 

Like so many of the problems our society currently faces, failure to act today will only make the consequences worse tomorrow.  

As more people pivot from Zoom to the offices they left some 18 months ago, we should be welcoming them back to work with public transportation that is secure, accessible, reliable, and affordable.  A Boston-area commuter should not have to worry about arriving safely or worry about arriving on time. They should not have to worry at all when using the T.  

The next time I come across my new friend waiting for the Red Line at Wollaston station, I hope we can just talk about the Red Sox heading to the World Series, or maybe the Patriots’ Super Bowl chances. I hope he won’t have to ask me “Is it safe?” ever again.  

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