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.

MBTA panel: first cut ridership

Let’s see what the panel appointed by our Republican governor says should be done about the problems at the MBTA:

An expert panel convened by Governor Charlie Baker to diagnose problems at the MBTA faults the agency for “limited cost control, low labor productivity, and high maintenance costs,” according to a draft of the group’s report, set to be released this week.

The report will outline strategies to contain costs. But it will not call on the Legislature to invest more money in the struggling agency, an administration official familiar with its contents said.

The report notes that some key sources of revenue are capped by law. The agency can raise fares by only 5 percent every two years, for instance.

But the panel calls on the T to do more with its existing resources, such as cracking down on passengers who evade fares and squeezing more money from its parking lots and real estate holdings.

“There are fundamental management practices and operational practices that really need to be put in place first and foremost,” said Jane Garvey, a panelist and former administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. “We certainly acknowledge that chronic underinvestment has been an issue, but we need to right the ship first.”

Shocking, the recommendation is to cut costs and don’t try to increase revenue. I’m sure that’s going to help with those 40 year old cars.

Snow and Holiday

So the Boston area got a few inches of snow today which means:

Just after 7 Sunday evening, with another 2.9 inches of fresh snow blanketing Boston, the National Weather Service in Taunton announced that the city notched its snowiest winter since records started being kept in 1872.

The official total at Logan International Airport reached 108.6 inches — one inch more than the previous record, which was set in the 1995-1996 winter, according to the weather service.

It could be that will be all we get, but there are still a few weeks for more possible snow.

For some reason this reminds me of Green Day:

Ok, not really but I was thinking back to the time this came out. The days of ‘Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists’, being called traitor if you didn’t like all the parts of the Patriot Act, being asked why you loved Saddam Hussein and hated America if you questioned going to war in Iraq. A time when all of America came together, until Republicans decided it made for a good campaign issue. This song was one of the first loud attacks against these attitudes and it made me very happy.

Sun sun sun

Given that the area is supposed to get another 8-10 inches of snow tonight and tomorrow, this is looking really good (Credit: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory):



So, it seems that the Boston area needs a bit more snow. The latest says that there could be a total of up to 2 feet by tomorrow. This adds to the 41 inches from the last two storms in the last two weeks–the record for the year is about 108 inches (the average is about 41 inches). Oh, and just for fun, it’s supposed to get nice and cold for the weekend.

I assume this means that Northeastern University will be closed on Monday which would be the third snow day (for me, Tuesdays have also been cancelled but I don’t teach on Tuesday). Since there are 3 Monday holidays that means I’m missing two weeks of classes. A short semester.

Here’s a bike path near me (it is plowed, so this is snow from the current storm):



Boston Olympics

It seems that Boston will be the US nominee for the 2024 Olympics:

Scott Blackmun, USOC chief executive, said the decision was “gut-wrenching” for the panel, but that Boston came out on top in part due to the business people and elected officials who drove the effort.

“One of the great things about the Boston bid was that the bid leadership and the political leadership were on the same page,” Blackmun said, in an exclusive Globe interview at the Denver airport.

The commission also liked Boston’s strong sports culture, and the opportunity to create an Olympic legacy in a new city, he said.

This part seems a little backwards:

City, state, and Olympic officials have scheduled a press conference in Boston at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, where they are expected to outline the next steps in the process. The organizing group must in coming months fill in the details of bare-bones Olympic venue and transportation plans, galvanize public support, and convince a chorus of skeptics that Boston can effectively pull off the world’s most prestigious international sports festival — without relying on taxpayers’ money — a mere nine years from now.

Boston 2024 organizers have promised to hold extensive public hearings around the city this year as the bid becomes more defined.

Shouldn’t they have the public hearings before they made the bid? Well, the people pushing this are mostly CEO types so they probably don’t think about those type of things.

The Boston Globe put together some things to think about:

Boston doesn’t have a large stadium or an aquatic center or a velodrome (for biking), and these are three of the most expensive Olympic facilities. What is more, finding places for them could be just as challenging as raising the money. For example, while there has been talk of building an Olympic stadium at Widett Circle, off I-93 south of downtown Boston, there’s already a meat and seafood wholesaler business at that spot whose owners don’t seem eager to sell.

That’s what eminent domain is for right?

Recent Olympic games have tended to cost at least $15 billion, and sometimes far more.

And in virtually every case, final costs vastly exceed the initial estimates.

While the Olympic Games do generate some revenue — from ticket sales, advertising, and TV rights — it’s not usually enough to cover the full cost. “Boston 2024 partnership” has said that Massachusetts taxpayers would not have to make up the difference, but for now there’s no plan to ensure that.

A lot depends on how you think about the $13 billion in already-approved transportation funding. Ultimately, that’s taxpayer money, so diverting some of it to pay for Olympics-related infrastructure — like a stadium — should probably count as public funding. But it’s also possible to argue that since that money has already been authorized, it’s not really a new taxpayer expense.

If money goes to buy a stadium instead of upgrades for the T, that obviously should count as public funding.

Here’s something else to consider:

Chicago’s failed Olympic pursuit five years ago cost more than $70 million, included endorsements from President Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan, and culminated in embarrassment when the IOC dismissed the U.S. bid early in its selection process despite a personal appeal from both the president and First Lady.

This could get expensive even if Boston only bids for the Olympics.

In general I like the Olympics but they really have jumped the shark with the Beijing and Sochi Olympics–those were both obviously chosen purely for monetary reasons (that’s why there are only two bids for the 2022 winter Olympics, no one else wanted them; also, given how they lied to get the summer Olympics, China should not be getting the Olympics again). The IOC claims they’ve changed, but I still think that the group No Boston Olympics is winning the argument.

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