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Planning Musings, Uncategorized

Baker, Walsh: Take the T Pledge


Ashmont-Mattapan High-Speed Line Streetcar arrives at Ashmont Station in February 2018. Photo by Maxime Devilliers, @maxdevilliers

Yesterday, I attended the Boston March for Science. Understandably, many of the speeches and signs focused on climate change.[1] I wish I had brought a “Fix The T” sign because we need fast, frequent, and reliable MBTA buses, trains, and ferries to decrease the significant greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.[2] We also need our  leaders—our Governor and Mayor—to ride the T. They need to Take the T Pledge.

Bostonian Brendan Halpin (@BHalpin) launched the pledge in January 2018. Paired with a simple website: TakeTheTPledge.com Halpin calls on our politicians to ride the T for five consecutive workdays. His site lists those who have (and have not) taken the pledge. Here’s why he believes the pledge is necessary (from his website):

The MBTA is in crisis. Big events get attention, but the T’s main problem is that it simply doesn’t work very well day in and day out. Why do our elected officials allow this to continue? Our belief is that they just don’t ride the T often enough to fully understand the frustrations that daily T commuters endure. (emphasis added)

As of April 2018, the website lists fifteen people who have taken the pledge, including consummate transit advocate and Boston City Councillor, Michelle Wu and Democratic candidates for governor Setti Warren and Jay Gonzalez.  Universal Hub compiled Councilor Wu’s tweets about her trips on the T, where she highlighted the good, the bad, and the ugly about her daily rides and transfers—with two young kids in tow![3]

If Councilor Wu can take the pledge, then surely Governor Charlie Baker (@MassGovernor) and Boston Mayor, self-described “car guy” Marty Walsh (@Marty_Walsh) can too. After investigating their hypothetical trips, I’d wager that their commutes would be simpler and easier than those for many people who already ride the T daily.

Walsh lives in Lower Mills, a neighborhood at the southern end of Dorchester by the Milton town line. To take the T to City Hall, he would walk five minutes to Butler Station on the Mattapan Line and transfer to the Red Line at Ashmont. Once on Red, he’d have three choices: walk 9 minutes from Park Street station, catch the Green Line to Government Center, or switch to the Orange Line and walk a minute to City Hall from Haymarket. The total trip time is 40 or so minutes.

Baker lives in Swampscott on the North Shore, and he also has easy access to the T. From his home, he would walk 10 minutes to the Swampscott commuter rail station and catch one of the 28 daily inbound trains to Boston. At North Station, he would switch to the Green Line and ride it to Park Street station and walk four minutes across the Common to the State House. The total trip time is less than one hour.

T rides.jpg

Hypothetical commutes for Walsh (Left, Red) and Baker (Right, Purple) if they took the T. The trip times are door-to-door.

Former Governor Dukakis rode (and still rides) the Green Line from Brookline daily and still advocates for the system today. Following the record breaking winter of 2015, Dukakis called on Baker to start taking the T too. Baker has demurred. He claims his schedule is too unpredictable.[4] Fine. Maybe he can’t ride the T daily (outside of a pledge week), but he absolutely can and should ride it at least once per week.

Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan), the Mayor of London, manages to ride the Tube without an entourage! Sure, London has a more extensive transit system than Boston, but Toledo, OH does not. Wade Kapszukiewicz (@WadeKaps), the new Mayor of Toledo, is riding the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) bus at least once each week. I have to imagine that the TARTA service is less frequent, less reliable, and slower than the MBTA’s.

Our leaders should set an example. Massachusetts has goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050. Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh have committed to these goals and have both signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement. The City of Boston has also called for “dramatic mode shifts” away from cars and towards sustainable transportation in the long-term transportation plan, Go Boston 2030.

A fast, frequent, and reliable MBTA is an essential first step to shifting people from cars and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

Fixing the T would not be a panacea. We need to overhaul our land use planning to discourage car-oriented subdivisions and build more homes, offices, and shops around our existing T stations and stops.[5] We need to implement congestion pricing and dynamic tolling on our bridges and highways.[6] We need elected leaders who will turn their climate change words into action.

Living so close to T stations, Baker and Walsh should either Take the T Pledge or sell their homes to someone who will and move to one of the many transit poor areas of Greater Boston.



[1] The host even noted that they had to run the sound equipment off of batteries because flooding during the series of nor’easters had short circuited the electrical system in the park.

[2] Transportation now accounts for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. As the Boston Globe noted in a November 2017 article, our cars are now the biggest barrier to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

[3] You may notice my nom de guerre in the War on Cars, @NorthEnd3r, calling for Baker and Walsh to Take the T Pledge.

[4] Baker can choose from 28 inbound trains to Boston and 28 outbound trains to Swampscott daily during the workweek. If those trains are somehow not enough, then he should embrace TransitMatters’ Regional Rail plan.

[5] We may need a Massachusetts version of SB 827, a bill in California that would permit more housing near train stations and along high frequency bus lines.

[6] This is when people argue that congestion pricing would harm low-income drivers, but these same voices are silent for low-income T riders. Their claim may not even hold water. A study of the congestion pricing proposal in New York found that it would only affect 5,000 low-income individuals (if they didn’t change their behavior!). 5.7 million people ride New York’s MTA buses, trains, and ferries daily. Surely, more than 5,000 low-income riders are in that group.



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