Sunday, April 1, 2012

A modest proposal for the MBTA

With the MBTA in dire budget shape, we need a solution to help the people in the Metro Boston area commute and get around. There have been several proposals to try and fix the budget deficit, including fare hikes, various kinds of service cuts, debt reassignment, union negotiation, and a litany of one-time options such as the excess winter snow removal funds. I have taken some time to think about this problem and I have come up with a simple proposal that could solve the MBTA's budget woes once and for all.

While browsing their website, I found the independent auditor's report, according to which, the MBTA has $8.2 billion in capital assets (after depreciation). This includes land, guide-ways, vehicles, and other assorted physical objects. All of this supports a system on which the number of trips reaches nearly 1.3 million per weekday. Assuming that's mostly commuters, it probably means there are approximately 550-600 thousand riders. This works out to approximately $13,500 to $15,000 per rider in capital assets. By comparison, the 2012 Ford Fiesta, one of the cheapest cars on the market, costs approximately $14,000.

The new Red Line
The proposal is simple: Sell off the capital assets of the MBTA and buy several hundred thousand Ford Fiestas. This will stimulate the economy by providing many jobs to build the cars, and by opening up much valuable downtown land for new small businesses. It's a win-win for the American and Boston economies. Just think of all the advantages for the individual rider: on-demand point-to-point service, no waiting, not getting stuck on yet another broken down train, and much faster too.

I'm sure somebody (who hates America) will raise some kind of objections to this plan: What about gasoline prices? Shouldn't we try to conserve oil? How will all these new cars fit on our roads and parking lots? As for gasoline prices, the MBTA currently receives an approximate $800 million/year subsidy. That could pay for approximately $1500/person in fuel costs. And conserving oil? Well, once we stop wasting so much oil on driving around empty buses, then we'll have tons leftover! Plus, I bet if we drilled underneath some existing T stations, we'd find lots of oil just waiting to be used. Drill here, drill now! After we're done drilling, we can convert all that leftover land into nice new highways and parking lots. Problem solved!

There'll be plenty of clear right-of-ways once we remove those pesky tracks

Plus, with all the new gasoline purchasers, there'll be plenty of fuel tax revenue to help clean up the pollution from the old MBTA sites, and think of all the money we'll save by not having to subsidize commuters anymore. That will solve our highway funding problem, and then we'll be able to afford more above-ground lanes to take the load off the Big Dig Central Artery tunnel, as shown in this rendering:

Imagine, no more sitting in underground traffic!

The next board of directors meeting is coming up this week, on April 4th. The current proposal from Richard Davey is just a temporary fix that will only provide enough funding for the upcoming year. Instead of revisiting this issue again next year, the board ought to consider this modest proposal as a permanent solution to the problems of the MBTA.