Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mayoral candidates have exact same opinion on T service

As previously mentioned, I’m a bit dissatisfied with the current crop of Mayoral candidates. That said, I’m willing to hear what they have to say, and will inevitably vote for one who loses in the run-off (looking at you, Arroyo) before being forced to choose between a corporate shill and a union hack.

But okay, currently there are a lot of candidates. I wasn’t excited to have to wade through all of their platforms, but luckily on the issue of late-night transportation, they’ve saved me the trouble by all having virtually the same position![i] And what’s that position? According to a Boston.com “Meet the Mayoral Candidates” piece, it’s that Boston should be open later.

City Councillor John Connolly. Get used to this face.
He's probably your next mayor.

So every candidate agrees we should be open later. Then how do they separate themselves from each other and help us separate the almost nonexistent wheat from this ever-growing pile of chaff? Let’s read more closely and find out!

Both Felix Arroyo and John Connolly manage to use the term “24/7,” while Bill Walczak suggests we become a “24-hour city.” Mike Ross, John Barros, and Walczak all hoped for “late-night” service, while Charlotte Golar-Richie couched her position by saying she’d “strongly encourage the MBTA to make improvements to the system.” That’s lovely, candidates. Very innovative. But what are you actually planning to do?
As far as tangible ideas and proposals, John Barros came out swinging. He mentioned working with the Governor (which, to fix the T, you’d need to do) to get system the funding it needs, and proposed a student discount pass for university students, which is a really good idea given how expensive being a student in Boston is.

As far as little-substance answers that sounded good go, Connolly really did well with his answer. While he didn’t really explain how he’d fix late-night transportation, he gave really good reasons why it needed to get done. “Too often,” he said, “the debate involves only a discussion about liquor. This is really about ensuring that Boston has a rich, welcoming, and inclusive arts, culture, and social life so that we can attract and retain talent and draw visitors to create jobs and fuel our economic engine.” This answer was probably the best articulation of what Boston’s problem is – we’re the urban equivalent of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. Boston needs to be open late because places where good and interesting shit happens are open late. We have no parking, so public transportation is really necessary to foster that.

Bill Walczak. Businessman, community organizer,
non-profit guru. If you like Felix Arroyo
but would like your answers to have more than just
empty calories, Walczak might be your guy.
Walczak, also lacking any actual roadmap, did tip his hat to taxi drivers and service workers, advocating the former be treated better by employers and the latter be treated better by their community by providing them a way home that costs less than $30. I like what I’m hearing from this guy. He’s got a clear interest in helping working people, not just finding ways to build more condos and be friendlier to developers and businesses.

Mike Ross earned the gut-laugh of the digital town hall. “Not only will I bring late night public transit to Boston,” he said, “I’ve done it before.” For you young folk, Councilor Ross is referring to the train wreck (see what I did there) Night Owl program, which was supposed to provide bus service along some of the T lines. Here’s the thing about Night Owl: it didn’t work. At all. It was horrible. As anyone who tried using it will tell you, the Night Owl service was notorious for its unreliability. Frequently, you’d wait at a designated stop only to find the buses never came at the posted times, and you’d end up walking home another hour or two more tired than you would have been if you just hiked it in the first place. Why any mayoral candidate would trot out a failed program so embarrassing that it would blow a job interview at a Dairy Queen is beyond me. If Night Owl is what we can expect from a Ross Administration, you can go ahead and skip it.

The two most perplexing answers were from Felix Arroyo and Charlotte Golar-Richie. While Arroyo gave an answer with less actual statements in it than an interview with a baseball player, Golar-Richie said plenty… It just didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The only candidate who didn’t outright say she’d expand service, she proposed service and city improvements like better street lighting, followed by proposing a series of better information distribution, suggesting solutions like schedules, real-time updates, and an app to tell when trains are coming. Click on the links to those words and you’ll find that she’s proposing a bunch of things that already exist. I imagine she wants to improve these programs, but her answer suggested (I can’t imagine accurately) a complete lack of information about the current state of the MBTA in Boston. The problem isn’t not knowing when the train is coming. It’s knowing it’s not coming after about 12:30am.

Great answers from John Barros. His background resembles
Walczak's in a lot of ways and his answer was just
as good. Here's hoping they don't split
the thinker's ticket.
Overall, these answers don’t mean much for the future of the T. Should there be a demand for it, candidates will start rolling out more detailed explanations of how they’ll fix the ailing transportation system if they get elected. It’s certainly unreasonable to expect a full plan in a paragraph this far before the election. That said, these answers do show that candidates like Connolly (no surprise), Walczak (kind of surprised), and Barros (really surprised) are capable of making clear statements that articulate what they think is important and broader than the question asked. At the same time, we have been given another sign that Arroyo and Golar-Richie might not be ready for prime time. Most glaringly though, we’ve learned that Consalvo (my councilor) and Walsh, two pretty serious candidates, don’t feel like they have to answer questions, or at least questions that that the constituencies they already have don’t care about.

[i] Information according to the linked Boston.com article. This applies only to candidates who actually answered the question. Dan Conley, Marty Walsh, David James Wyatt, Charles Yancey, Charles Clemons, and Robert Consalvo did not. Of those, I have a feeling Walsh and Consalvo might oppose T service expansions or not feel strongly about them. I have no evidence to support this assumption. That said, I would if they answered the question posed to them by the highest traffic news page in Boston.

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