AP NEWS

An MBTA Program Works. Let’s Keep It

December 20, 2018

The cash-strapped MBTA is in no position to leave money on the table and must take advantage of programs proven to be fruitful. One such program was a special $10 weekend fare on the Commuter Rail, which was valid for unlimited travel through every zone on Saturdays and Sundays.

The popular program expired in early December and there is no immediate plan to bring it back. The T has described the program as popular and successful, noting that it drove “strong” growth on weekends. The Commuter Rail weekend revenue was up 4.6 percent in that time, the T said.

As with so many things, ham-handed federal regulations kicked-in that prohibit the MBTA from continuing the program until the Office of Diversity and Civil Rights completes an impact analysis. At that point, bureaucrats at the Federal Transportation Administration in Washington, D.C., would call the shots. If it sounds arduous and inefficient, that’s because it is.

Members of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board sounded off last week when T officials discussed the pending suspension of the program. “Why would we stop this? Why would we suspend this?” FMCB member Brian Shortsleeve asked.

There may be a workaround. T Fiscal and Management Control Board Chairman Joseph Aiello suggested the T take a creative approach to try to keep the program going -- such as creating a “new” pilot program with a slightly different rate, like $11 instead of $10, so it would count as a different pilot program and keep going as the T worked on the studies for the original version.

If the MBTA can continue the program or devise a near-identical one, that is what they should do. Although the system is perennially plagued, this has been a notably tough year for the T. Fewer Bay Staters are riding the MBTA’s trains and buses. All train routes and buses have seen a 2 percent drop in ridership in the first quarter of FY 2019 over the previous July, August and September.

The weekend discount program was a success and the MBTA should either continue it or implement something very similar. There are a lot of bright minds among the decision makers of the MBTA, including a new general manager in Steve Poftak. They should get the program right back on track.

Don’t panic on casino revenue

With the Encore Boston Harbor Casino set to open in a little over six months, it is concerning that gambling revenues at Massachusetts’ casinos have dipped for the second straight month.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported Monday that MGM Springfield took in $21 million in gambling revenues in November, the third full month the casino has been open. In October the take was $22 million and in September $27 million.

Plainridge Park in Plainville, hauled in $12.8 million in November, a tick down from October’s $13.5 million and September’s $14.3 million. The casinos in Connecticut are also taking a hit.

It is not yet time to panic. Many casinos also make money on food and beverage and room revenues -- as the Encore is expected to do. With online gambling and sports betting offerings changing the landscape, uncertainty abounds, and our elected leaders should be paying close attention, like “the eye in the sky” above a poker table.

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