Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

I went to the Gardner Museum, so here are some pictures:

It’s an impressive little house in the Fenway. The building is also nice but they’re fixing it up right now so you can mostly only see construction.

Boston welcomes immigrants

Boston telling Trump they support immigrants:


Government works, with a big push

The court case for the clean up of the Boston harbor has been declared finished:

US District Judge Richard G. Stearns last month issued the 239th compliance order in the 1985 lawsuit that led to the Boston Harbor cleanup project, declaring an end to the construction phase of the massive combined sewer overflow project.

Stearns issued the order after a presentation in March by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority — which was created as a result of the lawsuit — showed how three decades of litigation since have transformed the harbor into one of the country’s cleanest with people boating, kayaking, and swimming in its waters again. With the project completed, all that remains is a mandated three-year post-construction monitoring program.

The litigation dates back to a time in the 1980s, when Boston was known nationally for its dirty water, and public health officials warned that anyone who fell into the Charles River or Boston Harbor should go to a hospital to be checked.

Following the merger of several cases in 1985 — in which the Environmental Protection Agency was alternately a defendant and a plaintiff — the Conservation Law Foundation of New England became a lead plaintiff.

The EPA, which initially had been blamed for failing to enforce environmental regulations, allowing the pollution to occur, then took a leading role in demanding cleanup efforts. The Metropolitan District Commission, which used to run sewer operations for Greater Boston, became the lead defendant.

What followed was a series of federal judicial orders mandating a timeline for the completion of cleanup projects, first set by A. David Mazzone, the initial judge to oversee the case, and later by Stearns, who took over just before Mazzone died.

This is how government works. There were powerful forces aligned against doing anything, but citizens with the levers of power put into the government were able to get it done. The process wasn’t pretty, but the end result is one of the cleanest harbors in the country. Without the government, this would not have happened, without the citizens push this would not have happened, without the courts this would not have happened. Thanks to all three.

Green Line Extension to move forward?

The MBTA has released its report on the Green Line Extension (with summary here). Here’s a statement near the end:

 If the GLX project is to move forward, the next step would be to enter into detailed discussions with FTA to seek approval of the redesign, the new cost estimate, the identified risks and risk mitigation strategies, and the overall process for releasing the New Starts funding (e.g. the Full Funding Grant Agreement).

You might notice that ‘if’. This is curious since:

And since the state is required to complete the project as part of a lawsuit settlement to mitigate the environmental impacts of the Big Dig, canceling it could leave the state open to litigation. However, an attorney for the T said Wednesday the state has legal alternatives — such as replacing the Green Line extension with a project that “provides at least 110 percent of the air quality benefits of the original project.”

Rafael Mares, with the Conservation Law Foundation, the group that negotiated the original commitment to build the project, says any alternatives would have to be built in the same service area — something he doesn’t see as feasible.

It would be interesting to see what a court would do if the state decided not to build the extension–would the court step in to make the state proceed?

The report says there is still a $73 million gap in funding and the state has emphatically stated they will not pay any more:

The $300 million difference between the prior $2 billion budget and the new $2.3 billion figure would be filled in part by $152 million in federal funds that had been allocated for a later phase of the project, which would have brought further expansion to Medford, and $75 million combined from the cities of Somerville and Cambridge.

That still leaves a budget gap of $73 million with no source so far. Under the terms of a rule set by the two boards late last year, that additional funding can’t come from the state.

Here’s one of the cuts:

A vehicle maintenance facility has also been trimmed down significantly, accounting for $115 million in savings.

Well, it’s not like there are maintenance problems with the T now.

MBTA control board

The MBTA has put out its proposals for fare increases and I’m trying to figure out what their goal is:

Why target monthly passes for such steep increases?

Pollack said officials must balance raising revenue without driving riders away from its trains and buses. The prices on passes could increase, she said, and they would still be one of the best deals for major transit systems. Data presented by the MBTA showed the equivalent of its monthly LinkPass sells for $100 in Portland, Ore., and Chicago; $116.50 in New York City, and $91 in Philadelphia.

“We think there’s room to increase the costs of the passes without losing ridership,” Pollack said. “If we hear from our riders that we’re wrong about that, we’ll have to take that into account.”

So, they want fewer people to buy passes? Consider their own reasoning–they have found the median number of trips per month for a monthly pass holder to be 40 (20 days) and the number of trips needed to make the pass cheaper than the single-trip fares will be 37.5 under the new proposal (currently it’s 35.7). That means you need to use the T at least 19 times a month to make it worthwhile. I’m betting that the percent of people using passes will go down (I typically buy one 10 months out of the year, that will probably go down by 2 or 3 if this passes).

The last increase was in 2014, the cumulative increases for the bus only monthly pass will be either 20.8 or 24.5%; for the LinkPass it will either be 17.9 or 20.7%. Those are pretty steep increases in 2 years. So, yeah, for some reason the T really wants to decrease the number of people who buy monthly passes.

They also want to decrease the number of people who use the commuter rail in some places

The outer express bus fares drop 26.5 percent … Among the proposed increases for commuter rail tickets, none go over 10 percent.

You can see what this does in places like Waltham. The monthly pass: will increase from $198 to either 208 or $217.75 for the commuter rail; it will decrease from $168 to $130 for the outer express bus. Which would you take to downtown Boston (the commuter rail is about 18% more, it will be at least 60% more after the fares change)?

By the way, according to this post, in constant dollars the fare increase last year raised the fare for the MBTA to its highest rate ever–well until the fare increase this July.

Boston Globe delivery

The Boston Globe seems to be having trouble delivering its paper:

Scores of Boston Globe editors, reporters, photographers, and other employees worked late Saturday and early Sunday across eastern Massachusetts to assist delivery crews in making sure subscribers received their Sunday newspapers.
The Globe switched to a new delivery company, ACI Media Group, on Dec. 28, and customers have since reported issues receiving newspapers.
Missing papers prompted an outcry from readers, who vented on social media and overwhelmed the Globe’s phone system with complaints.
You would think that a story about a newspaper would actually answer the main questions about the story, but:
The problems stem from switching Monday to a new delivery company. Globe chief executive Mike Sheehan said the change was made to improve deliveries for all customers, but acknowledged the new service got off to a rocky start.
That’s a partial answer to two main questions:
Why did the Boston Globe switch delivery companies?
  • Had there been big problems before?
  • Was it to cut costs?

These questions aren’t answered.  The closest I’ve seen is here:

The company did not say why it switched vendors, only that it was a “complex and major undertaking,” according to a statement from Peter Doucette, the Globe’s vice president.

But people familiar with the Globe’s strategy said that the company was looking for a delivery service that could help improve circulation, and that there were problems with the previous vendor, Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, which also delivers The New York Times.

I love this bit:

A plea for volunteers was made after the company switched to a new delivery service, ACI Media Group, on Dec. 28. ACI Media Group, based in Long Beach, Calif., works for The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times and several other newspapers. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Boston Globe has no comment from the company, ACI. I wonder if they also couldn’t reach them?

What caused the delivery problems?
  • That is partially answered here. It’s not in the print story but the reporter in the video notes that the new company did not hire enough workers (why?) and they did not know the routes yet (again, why?).

Given that these problems were anticipated and the outcry started last Monday, it’s amazing to me that there are no answers to basic questions such as these and it’s amazing that the Boston Globe has done such a terrible job communicating.

Update: There seems to be actual reporting in today’s paper:

Behind disruptions affecting up to 10 percent of daily subscribers are two basic problems, both sides said. ACI Media Group, which took over home delivery in Greater Boston last Monday, has yet to hire enough drivers to cover every route. And many of ACI’s new delivery routes lack any logical sequence, leaving drivers criss-crossing communities and making repeated trips to the same neighborhoods.

ACI officials say they are aggressively recruiting new drivers with incentive programs, but could not say when they will have enough to ensure every paper is delivered.

“I wish I could answer that question,” ACI’s president and chief operating officer, Jack Klunder, a former circulation executive at the Los Angeles Times, said in an interview. “I just can’t say. I think it’s going to improve each week.” He said in four to six months service will be as good as before the change, and then will continue to improve.

Globe chief executive Mike Sheehan said the newspaper undertook the switch from Publishers Circulation Fulfillment to ACI primarily in an effort to improve service and reduce the number of delivery cancellations due to service complaints. ACI also brings a “material” cost savings, he said, which Globe owner John Henry had intended to put back into the operation.

Wow, in 4-6 months service will be as good as before the change? That’s pretty pathetic. Also, it’s pretty clear that at least one of the two parties (the Globe and ACI) knew there was going to be major problems and yet it’s obvious they didn’t do enough in either communicating this or trying to mitigate it. Both sides have strong reasons to lie so it’s hard to know which side is telling the truth. Of course we can blame them all (except of course the people who actually deliver the papers–they’re probably getting screwed too).

Watch your back

A new year means another climb up one of the mighty peaks in Malden and a picture of Boston looming in the distance (although Boston’s manufacturing days are mostly long past):


Oh yeah, you can see a bit of snow on the ground if want.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: