Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Orange is the New Green

Starts with a black psyop:

"Man in custody after alleged threat on Orange Line train" by John R. Ellement Globe Staff  September 16, 2015

Transit Police arrested a man clad in black clothing who allegedly threatened to blow up an Orange Line train while wearing a Guy Fawkes “Anonymous” mask during the morning rush hour Wednesday, officials said. 

Yeah, thanks for the "help." With "allies" like them..... so what government agency was this agent provocateur drawing salary?

Lieutenant Detective Richard Sullivan, a Transit Police spokesman, said, “He was making threats, and people were very uncomfortable. He made references to blowing up the train.’’

Transit Police received several 911 calls about 9 a.m. Wednesday and officers greeted the train when it arrived at Back Bay station, Sullivan said.

But the man could not be located, and Sullivan said investigators later learned from the MBTA surveillance system that he had gotten off the train at the Tufts station.

Transit Police officers found the man still at the Tufts station around 11 a.m. and arrested him.

He was identified as Joseph Johnson, 30, of Boston, and he is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Boston Municipal Court on one count of making a false bomb threat, Transit Police said.

Joe Johnson? How generic. 

Where is his next assignment and under what name?

In a statement, Sullivan said Johnson’s arrest was designed to send a message.

Yeah, well, MESSAGE RECEIVED!

“Our number one priority is the safety and security of our patrons and employees,’’ he said.

“A clear message must be sent; behavior and statements such as exhibited by Johnson will not and cannot be tolerated on the MBTA.’’

GOT IT! 

Stay off the T no matter what!

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Sullivan said no bomb or bomb-making equipment was found by investigators.

So what was this, another training drill?

“At no time were our patrons and employees in danger from Johnson’s alleged threat,’’ he said in the statement.

“We apologize to anyone who may have been inconvenienced by this morning’s incident.’’

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Train getting started again and I missed it:

"Weld, Dukakis to press Baker on North, South Station link" by David Scharfenberg Globe Staff  September 09, 2015

The meeting said something about the access afforded former chief executives on Beacon Hill. But the aftermath said something about the limits of their influence.

“My focus is to fix the T,” Governor Charlie Baker said, using shorthand for the MBTA subway and bus system that failed last winter amid historic storms.

Former governors Michael Dukakis and William Weld have taken full advantage of a summer lull in the local news cycle to draw renewed attention to a decades-old push for what is known as the North-South Rail Link.

They wrote a joint opinion article in the Globe in mid-August. And they’ve played the political odd couple in the press — one a Democrat, the other a Republican, one a policy wonk, the other a glad-hander.

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The trouble, critics say, is that the project is pricey and cannot be a top priority for a public transit system in disrepair.

“It’s not a bad idea,” said James Aloisi, a former transportation official in the Dukakis administration. “The question is: Is it the right idea for the moment?”

He'll take you for a ride.

Dukakis, speaking to reporters after the meeting Wednesday, rejected that argument. North and South Stations are congested, he said, and the state must address the problem one way or another.

“There’s not an option not to build,” he said. “This has got to be dealt with.”

It was part of a detailed, 23-minute defense of the proposal delivered just outside the governor’s office.

Dukakis, dressed in a blue-checked dress shirt and khaki pants, spoke of federal loan programs that could help finance the effort, similar projects in Los Angeles and London, and a trip to Philadelphia with his wife.

He also criticized a competing proposal, the expansion of South Station, which he called a temporary, inferior fix.

But Baker, asked earlier if he saw the rail link as a viable alternative to a South Station expansion, left little doubt about where he stands.

“Not from my point of view,” he said. “Certainly from Governor Dukakis’ point of view, it would be. But not from mine.”

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RelatedProcess blamed for Green Line project’s soaring cost

Also see: Red Light on Green Line

"Green Line extension supporters urge state not to drop project" by Nicole Dungca Globe Staff  September 09, 2015

On Wednesday, nearly 30 supporters, including Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, pressed Department of Transportation board members to continue the project, saying that it is critical for local communities and the entire region.

Curtatone said the Boston area is one of the most congested regions in the country, and that affects the local economy.

“We want the Green Line,” he said. “The Green Line must come, and the Green Line will come.”
Winter prep work to disrupt JFK-Quincy Red Line trains

Most weekend train service will be suspended between JFK/UMass Station and Quincy Center Station for the rest of September.

Rafael Mares, a vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, said he believed the main contractor for the project, White-Skanska-Kiewit, has overestimated the cost. Mares’s organization successfully sued the T to force the agency to complete the Green Line extension.

Mares said he believes the T could put portions of the project out to bid again to save money, even if it means missing some of the deadlines for which the foundation pushed.

“If we cannot find a way to make this project happen,” he said, “what project can we complete in Massachusetts?”

Mares and others said the contracting process used by the T had resulted in the high costs. Under the process, the general contractor names the maximum price for each portion of the project. While the process can speed up a project, critics say it can limit the T’s ability to negotiate a good price.

But Stephanie Pollack, the state’s transportation secretary, said changing the contracting process would not necessarily decrease costs. And transportation board member Joseph Sullivan cautioned against further delay.

“A delay is time, and time is money,” he said. “So how do we make a determination that, in fact, trying to reduce the overall figure when we’re delaying the project is going to actually save us some money?”

T staff may redesign or eliminate a maintenance facility and a biking path planned for the project, or design less expensive stations. They could also seek additional money from the state or developers.

The agency will soon have to submit a new financing plan to the federal government, which pledged to pitch in nearly $1 billion for the project.

Frank DePaola, the T’s interim general manager, said the agency is trying to get the contractor to reduce its estimate, and seeking an independent audit to understand how the costs ballooned so dramatically.

The reassessment of the project comes as T officials take on the task of improving the agency’s finances. Governor Charlie Baker successfully lobbied the Legislature for a fiscal control board to oversee the T’s finances and management .

On Wednesday, the agency also laid out its anticipated deficits in the coming years: The MBTA could have a budget shortfall of nearly $427 million through fiscal year 2020 if it continues growing at its current rate, according to the T’s newly appointed chief administrator, Brian Shortsleeve.

Part of the increases will come from the T’s decision to shift the salaries and benefits of about 530 employees funded from its capital budget to its operating budget. That will cost the agency about $52 million in operating expenses during the 2017 fiscal year....

The unspoken killer is the debt interest payments that must be ponied up every month due to the Big Dig.

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Related:

MBTA fiscal control board report cites ‘deep-seated’ problems

Wor$e than thought.

Computer system, policies contribute to T’s problems

Need more people.

MBTA unveils simpler system for performance statistics

Rigging numbers so they look better; will help avoid crippling fines.

New commuter rail schedules will target delays, MBTA says

They are going backwards!

Must be the downgrade before starting back uphill again.

MBTA tracks down artist who created iconic murals
Dewey Square mural’s meaning is a matter of choice

MIT pushed to address traffic in Kendall Square
MIT student builds real-time MBTA map into wall using LED lights

Winter prep work to disrupt JFK-Quincy Red Line trains
Red Line driver injects humor into his work
Baker reviews MBTA’s plans to prepare for winter

It's going to cost how much?

"MBTA repair bill up to $7.3b and may rise, panel says; Governor Baker not committing funds" by David Scharfenberg Globe Staff  August 31, 2015

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would need to spend $7.3 billion to get its buses, trains, stations, and other assets in good working order, according to T officials.

The figure marks a substantial increase over a preliminary estimate of $6.7 billion issued in March. And officials said Monday it could grow even higher in the coming months as they refine their understanding of the scope of the problem.

The poor condition of the system’s trains and third rails is considered a significant driver of the MBTA’s breakdowns this past winter.

But Steve Poftak, a member of the fiscal and management control board that oversees the agency, said addressing the daunting backlog of repairs and upgrades is about more than preparing for snow and ice. It is the bedrock concern, he suggested, for an agency that needs to improve in all seasons.

“To me,” he said, “it’s the foundation of providing the MBTA service that riders deserve.”

A spokesman for Governor Charlie Baker, who has made overhauling the transit agency a centerpiece of his first year in office, praised the board for the thoroughness of its work but did not commit to more money for MBTA.

“The administration can now appropriately determine the best way forward in regards to funding while the financial health of the T is reformed,” Billy Pitman said.

The debate over fixing MBTA infrastructure has been a flashpoint in the discussion of what ails the nation’s fifth-largest public transit system.

Most observers agree the state has to do a better job of repairing and upgrading the T’s existing trains and switches. But Baker, who took office in January, argues that the T has been distracted from that core mission in recent decades by an unaffordable zeal for expansion.

Public transit advocates counter that the T has to continue expanding in order to foster economic growth in the region. The fundamental problem, they argue, is a historic lack of investment that has compounded the maintenance problems.

“This is the chickens coming home to roost,” said Rafael Mares, senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.

The twin concerns, maintenance and expansion, were on full display Monday afternoon at a meeting of the fiscal control board, created to right the T after the agency’s winter crisis.

The panel reviewed the latest figures on the maintenance backlog. But it also took a first step toward hiring an outside consultant to examine how the estimated cost of a Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford exploded by $700 million to $1 billion.

Board members said getting to the bottom of the ballooning estimates, announced last week, is vital to restoring confidence in the T’s contracting procedures. And they suggested it would be politically difficult for the agency to proceed with the Green Line project without a review.

“I don’t think, at least for the public, that we can justify any decision going forward without giving them a full explanation of how we got here in the first place,” said board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt.

Board members suggested the review look at whether the T properly vetted a new contracting procedure, which some blame for the runaway costs. And the report, they said, should examine the agency’s broader management of the extension.

Joseph Aiello, chairman of the board, said the study should even contemplate bringing in an outside entity to oversee the Green Line expansion. “I’d like to get some radical thinking in there,” he said.

*****************

The true cost of getting the T’s equipment in a “state of good repair,” though, is almost certainly greater.

State Representative William M. Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who is co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, “Then it does become a safety issue and a service issue, and as we learned this winter, that’s just intolerable.”

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About as radical as it is going to get:

"Pollack finds self on other side in Green Line extension debate" by Stephanie Ebbert Globe Staff  August 31, 2015

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, a longtime transit advocate who for years had pressured officials to uphold their commitments to such transit improvements, holds what may often be one of the least enviable positions in Massachusetts government. An environmental advocate enlisted by a Republican governor with an aversion to tax increases, she assumed oversight of the state's transportation network in January as a relentless series of winter storms crippled the region's roads and rails and exposed systemic problems that had been years in the making.

Yet it is often said that no Cabinet member had a better sense of what she was getting into. A longtime leader of the Conservation Law Foundation, New England’s premier environmental advocacy organization, she wielded broad influence over city and state government, helping to shape not just transportation policy but also public access to the South Boston waterfront.

While working as a private sector consultant in recent years, she taught and led research efforts at the Northeastern University Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, presenting her own analyses of the state’s dwindling transportation finances and offering comparisons to those of other cities and states.

Pollack, 55, of Newton, is one of those rare figures on Beacon Hill who command respect from people on both sides of the aisle and from various corners of government. Mention her name and even wizened players admit to admiration without reserve.

“I’m a huge fan of Stephanie’s,” said Stephen J. Silveira, a Republican lobbyist who led an earlier study of the state’s transportation finances. “She is one of the smartest people I know and when it comes to transportation, she’s one of the most erudite people I know. I’m pretty good on the forest. She knows the leaves.”

A double-major MIT graduate (mechanical engineering and public policy) who then graduated from Harvard Law School, Pollack acknowledges an obsession with details; she scrutinizes the bids her agency is receiving every week.

Her wonkish style complements that of Governor Charlie Baker — once the state’s budget chief. But conservatives greeted Pollack’s appointment warily, viewing her more as an advocate than an expert. Charles Chieppo, a senior fellow at the conservative Pioneer Institute, said he “threw up in my mouth a little bit when I heard that announcement.”

Her name was inextricably linked with the Conservation Law Foundation, the hardball environmental group that had pressed the state to commit to MBTA improvements, including the Green Line extension, in 1990, at the tail end of the Dukakis administration. The commitments averted a lawsuit by the foundation and were enshrined in the state’s plans for compliance with the federal Clean Air Act, but attracted resentment for their lack of funding and unknown price tag. Chieppo calls the deal “the single worst state transportation decision of the latter half of the 20th century.”

********************

A cynic might say that is because Pollack has worked so seamlessly within the Baker administration, without challenging the Republican dogma or agitating for the additional revenues that even the governor has acknowledged will be necessary. Pollack betrays no glimmer of disloyalty to the administration — even behind the scenes, said Rafael Mares, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation.

“She’s doing her job the way she’s supposed to be doing it — in clear coordination and in lockstep with the governor,” Mares said.

Twelve years before she joined a Republican administration, her predecessor at the Conservation Law Foundation, longtime president Douglas I. Foy, went to work for Governor Mitt Romney. An iconic figure with a towering reputation, Foy was largely sidelined by Romney, who began taking more conservative views as he edged toward his first campaign for president.

Pollack resisted comparisons to Foy, and many following news of the Green Line extension — an on-again, off-again plan that had already begun and that has been driving development plans and influencing property values along the Somerville route — expect that the plan will move forward in some, less costly fashion. Still, Pollack insists the cancellation of the project cannot be ruled out....

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Another red light inside the tunnel.

Yeah, the car took forever to arrive -- as if it had come from China or something.

Better off taking the bus:

"Woman apologizes for scuffling with T officer on bus" by John R. Ellement Globe Staff  September 21, 2015

A Somerville woman Monday apologized for her actions on an MBTA bus during a volatile confrontation with a Transit Police officer, but she insisted the officer lost control of himself and should not have used chemical spray, a baton, or deployed his firearm against her.

The incident between Shelisa E. Bittle and the Officer Herby Jean took place on an MBTA bus at the Dudley Square station last Friday and was recorded by several passengers, one of whom posted his version on YouTube.

Bittle pleaded not guilty in Roxbury Municipal Court Monday to five charges, including assault and battery on a police officer and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Bittle, 26, is now being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and staff attorney, Carl Williams.

Bittle, who was accompanied to court by her mother, aunt, and brother, was released on personal recognizance. Several organizations, including representatives from Black Lives Matter and Boston Coalition for Police Accountability, were in court to show her support.

Standing outside the courthouse, Bittle spurned warnings from Williams and spoke briefly to reporters. “I apologize for my behavior,’’ Bittle said. “All I have to say to the officer is if you had done your job properly, it would not have escalated that far. . . I would have given him my bag. I would have let him search it. . . But he was way too aggressive, way too aggressive.’’

Williams, whose organization has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Transit Police on behalf of another woman, said that the video showed a Transit Police officer taking wholly unwarranted actions against a small woman who exercised her right not to answer questions from police....

When police ask you something, you just disperse!

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I want to know who is their boss.

Time to hit the Pike:

"For 600 retirees, no more free rides on Mass. Pike" by Andrea Estes Globe Staff  September 04, 2015

For years, state officials have handed out a generous perk to hundreds of retiring employees of the old turnpike authority: a transponder or pass card that lets them skip the tolls on the turnpike, the Tobin Bridge, and the airport tunnels.

Being a member of the Party has its privileges.

Now, transportation officials are ending the retirement benefit for more than 600 former employees, saying they had inadvertently continued a practice that should have ended in 2009, when the Turnpike Authority was merged into the state Transportation Department.

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The transponders or pass cards will be deactivated on Sept. 11.

Ominous date.

The change of heart came after the Globe questioned transportation officials’ claim that they were required by law or union contract to let turnpike retirees travel toll roads, tunnels, and bridges for free. As recently as this week, transportation officials said former turnpike employees were “grandfathered” under union contracts.

Former Turnpike Authority board member Mary Z. Connaughton called the state admission “truly startling.”

“The public should rightfully question what else could be going wrong,” said Connaughton, who is now director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute, a public policy think tank.

***************

The new agency continued some of the lingering benefits of the old system, including the free transponders and passes for former Turnpike Authority employees.

They let the practice continue even though it was not a benefit contained in agreements with the unions representing the workers, Verseckes told the Globe.

In fact, one union official, Robert Cullinane, principal executive officer of Teamsters Local 127, said his union explicitly gave up the post-retirement perk in 2012. Even so, he said, members of his union have continued to receive the benefit upon retirement, including many who took advantage of Governor Charlie Baker’s recent early retirement incentive, which was designed to cut costs.

Another union official, John Dumas, president of IBEW Local 103, said that although the benefit was not contained in any of its agreements, the union’s lawyers believe it is a past practice and should continue unless it is bargained away. His union, which represents electricians and telecommunications specialists who worked for the Turnpike Authority, may fight any unilateral change, Dumas said.

But even if the former Turnpike employees lose the toll-free privileges, another group of state retirees will continue to get free transportation, say state officials. More than 3,400 retired MBTA workers are allowed to ride the system’s buses and trains for free by tapping their ID card at fare boxes and fare gates, an agency spokesman said....

It's in the union contract -- as if those things could never be opened up and redone!

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Be careful crossing the bridges:

"Mass. bridges are in danger of falling down" by Ren√©e Loth Globe Columnist  September 03, 2015

Massachusetts prides itself on being at or near the top of the states on any number of indices: student test scores, job creation, health care. Why, then, are we not more embarrassed by this dubious achievement: Massachusetts is second only to Rhode Island in the percentage of bridges that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. A recent estimate for repairing these clunkers is $14 billion. When it comes to the state’s neglected transportation burden, the Green Line extension isn’t the half of it.

Where has all the money gone?

According to the Federal Highway Administration, 52 percent of the state’s bridges — 2,673 structures in all — have some kind of deficiency. It might be structural: a crack or other flaw in a deck, culvert, or retaining wall. Or the bridge may just be “functionally obsolete,” meaning it isn’t adequate for current use: maybe it wasn’t designed for today’s traffic volumes, or it lacks adequate safety shoulders. Either way, the state’s eight-year Accelerated Bridge Repair program, which has pushed the number of structurally deficient bridges down to 408, is badly overmatched by the age of our infrastructure, our weather, and our seeming inability as a society to pay for an obvious shared need. And the bridge repair program ends next year.

It was not reassuring to find that a span of the Mass. Pike over Brooks Street in Brighton, which I travel under several times a week, is among the top 10 structurally deficient bridges in Massachusetts, based on the number of daily crossings. But almost every county in the state has a few trouble spots.

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You have to wonder what has become of that grand coalition of responsible business and political leaders – the Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the mayors of several cities – who opposed the tiny inflation index for the gas tax on last year’s ballot. If it had not passed, Massachusetts could have had an extra $100 million to help support road and bridge repairs this year. And with the average price of a gallon of gasoline down by six cents this week, it is unlikely anyone would have noticed.

Yeah, rai$ing taxes is always the an$wer.

Indeed, states across the country — including seven with Republican governors — raised gas taxes last year or shelved plans to lower them. They include those notorious tax-and-spend states Georgia, Utah, and Idaho. The gas tax is not the perfect method of funding transportation repairs, since more fuel-efficient cars eventually will reduce the state’s income from the tax. But it is the payment system we’ve got....

The new highway bill that Congre$$ is drawing up should fix things.

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Maybe you should just call a cab:

Police official says Uber lied about vehicle inspections
Evans renews call for extensive background checks at Uber
Needless rules won’t make ride-sharing any safer
Baker officials on Uber: ‘Disruption is a hallmark of innovation’
Uber says 21 percent of Boston cabbies have signed up to drive with service
Lyft’s ‘Line’ carpool service hits Boston, following Uber’s lead
Livery cab driver guilty of raping female passenger

I Said you needed to be careful and say stop.

Google hires auto veteran to lead self-driving car push
Automakers commit to put automatic brakes in all cars
Report says Apple moves forward on building a car

Maybe that is a better idea for the cabs.

Tesla’s first SUV is hitting the road

They are also looking at developing a limousine.

At this point, I'm lost. About the only thing that I have left is a bike to deliver this post to you.

NDUs: 

Green Line to get countdown clocks in downtown stations

Walsh, Kitty Dukakis vow to fight T if it reverses alcohol-ad ban

Also seeNew auto safety technologies leave some drivers bewildered

Report lays out Boston’s transit wish list

"Lawyers for the two Jane Does say that Uber’s claims of safety are “false and hollow,” and liken using the app to “electronic hitchhiking.” “By marketing heavily toward young women who have been drinking while claiming that rider safety is its #1 priority, Uber is instead putting these women at risk,” the complaint said.

Among several measures, the lawsuit calls for Uber to include full-service customer support centers, mandate tamper-proof video cameras in cars, give customers the ability to choose a female Uber driver, and mandate the use of a fingerprint-based background check.

Opponents of the growing ride-hailing app market often allege that companies such as Uber conduct background checks that aren’t as complete as those for taxi drivers. But Uber says that its criminal background screening process is rigorous and safe....

Lawsuit accuses Uber of neglecting passenger safety"

UPDATEUber hits 2 million rides in Massachusetts for September