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):

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

No Olympics in China

This week is the week for Olympics news. We learned yesterday that Boston will not be hosting the 2024 Olympics and the Olympics committee will decide where the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held on Friday.

The articles on the choice for 2022 typically are like this one:

Chinese organizers have repeatedly stressed they would put on ‘‘sustainable’’ and ‘‘economical’’ games, using infrastructure from the 2008 Summer Games and promising to leave a ‘‘powerful legacy’’ by developing a winter sports market for China and east Asia.

Critics point to China’s lack of Alpine venues, and the distance from Beijing of suitable mountainous regions as having a negative impact on the bid.

Beijing insists it has sufficient water supplies for snow-making and can provide excellent conditions for ski competitions.

Both countries have been assailed for their human rights records. Human Rights Watch issued a report criticizing Kazakhstan’s ‘‘hostility and abuse’’ toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. China has been involved in a recent crackdown on rights lawyers.

This is one of the few articles that notes something I mentioned after the 2008 Summer Olympics in China:

Golog Jigme said in an interview that he was troubled that the International Olympic Committee would award the Winter Games to Beijing after the Chinese government broke promises it made during its earlier bid for the Olympics.

At the time, China assured the committee that it would improve press freedom, honor its international human rights commitments and even allow protests during the games. Although foreign journalists were given unfiltered Internet access at the official media center in Beijing, the government vigorously censored negative news about the games and security officials made sure that the designated protest zones set up around the city were empty. (Many who applied to protest in those areas were detained while filing their applications.)

Here’s an article that is somewhere in between:

As with its 2008 bid, Beijing has come under intense criticism from human rights groups who say giving it the games will only reward the communist government for its strict limits on political organization and freedom of speech.

They’ve been given further ammunition by an ongoing campaign against human rights lawyers, dozens of whom have been detained in recent weeks. That’s seen as part of a drive by president and Communist Party head Xi Jinping _ China’s most powerful leader in decades _ to further shrink the space for political critics.

The Internet also remains heavily regulated, with some social media sites blocked entirely. Organizers have pledged to lift those restrictions for the games.

Minority groups, especially Tibetans, Mongolians and Uighurs from the far northwestern region of Xinjiang, have also complained of tighter limits on political and religious life as well as being denied the right to travel abroad.

Despite commitments to loosen rules on foreign reporters in the country made during the 2008 games, Tibetan and Uighur areas remain largely off-limits to the media.

So, the article says that China is making promises to get the Olympics and notes that currently China is not following rules it promised to follow for the 2008 Olympics, but doesn’t directly say that China broke their promises in 2008. That would seem to be important–after all, why should anyone trust their promises this time around?

It’s sunny in Malden

This is a great picture of the Sun, showing how dynamic it is (Credit: NASA/SDO):

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It seems that astronaut Scott Kelly took a picture of the Boston area this morning:

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At first this confused me because the river in the middle of the picture is a mix of the Boston Harbor and then the Mystic and Chelsea rivers (the Charles is the one that appears to be going south–this also explains why it confused me at first, the Charles is mostly going east to west). The little spur off the Mystic near the left part of the picture is the Malden River, I live not too far from the end of it (the river goes underground. What looks like three white dots is Malden High School, I live a few blocks east of there (almost directly above it in the picture)). At 9:39 am I was inside or you could have seen me.

Once you get your bearings you can see downtown, the Commons and Public Gardens, Logan Airport (this is obvious), South Boston is at the bottom right (the enclosed body of water is at the end, you can see Fort Independence Park), East Boston is just to the west of the airport (yeah, South Boston southeast of East Boston), the peninsula at the top is Deer Island (you can see part of the waste treatment facility that has made Boston Harbor so much cleaner; it was an island until the hurricane of 1938) which goes into Winthrop if you follow it back.

Pay to play

Let’s see what’s happening in Faneuil Hall:

Starting next month, street performers at Faneuil Hall will have to do more than perform — they will also have to pay for the privilege of entertaining the crowd.
In a move that has outraged the popular musicians, acrobats, and other entertainers, Faneuil Hall Marketplace management wants performers to pay fees that run as high as $2,500 annually, saying the charges are needed to offset administration, promotion, and security costs.

Performers learned about the new fees last month, just a week before summer auditions were scheduled to begin. Angry over the late notice, they boycotted the auditions, causing them to be canceled.

Most places pay performers, but when you’re a billion dollar company like Ashkenazy you expect everyone to pay you. And it’s not like the entertainers are a major part of the attraction, oh wait.

Charlie Baker and the T

Governor Baker wants to reform the MBTA. Let’s see some of those plans:

In an attempt to overhaul the embattled Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday proposed the creation of a board he would appoint to take control of the finances and operations of the agency.

The new fiscal and management control board would oversee the T for three to five years, taking power away from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board, under the legislation filed by the administration Wednesday.

Add more administration, check.

The bill would also open the door to fare increases by eliminating the cap on how high and how often the T can raise its fares. No immediate fare increases are contemplated, however.

Increase the price, but not yet–don’t want people to get too mad. Wait a bit and let somebody else be the face of the increase, courage!

In his legislation, Baker also proposed the elimination of promised additional funding that was outlined for state transportation system, including the T, in a 2013 transportation finance bill. Over the next five fiscal years, the transportation system would have received an additional $500 million under the law.

Cut funding to the T, check.

Baker also proposed substantial changes to the Transportation Department board, which would still oversee department business. The administration hopes to expand the department board from seven to 11 members, with eight serving four-year terms at the same time as the governor.

Hey, even more new administration.

The proposal is sure to stoke opposition from the agency’s unions. Baker took aim at the MBTA’s pensions, proposing an independent audit of the retirement fund within 180 days of the law going into effect. The legislation would stop retirement payments to the fund for new hires until the audit is completed.

The bill also asks the Legislature to change the agency’s binding arbitration system for labor contracts, which critics have seen as a drain to the T’s finances. Under the legislation, the fiscal control board would need to approve an arbitrator’s award in a labor dispute.

Cut pay and benefits, check.

In addition, Baker wants to free the agency of the Pacheco law, an antiprivatization law that makes it difficult for the T to contract out major services.

Prepare to privatize as much as possible, check.

Yup, this is a Republican governor all right.

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