Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Lawmakers pressured on planned T hikes

Monday, April 9th, 2012

By Mounira Al Hmoud

BOSTON – Public transportation advocates have a busload of ideas, ranging from shifts in state transportation funding and increase in Registry fees and tolls, to avoid fare hikes and services cuts to the MBTA and regional transit authorities.

“The MBTA serves a million trips a day,” Elizabeth Weyant, an attorney with consumer group MassPIRG, told a Statehouse gathering held Tuesday to find another way to deal with MBTA deficits. “Failure to actually maintain our transportation system means train breakdowns, crowded roads, decline in servicing system.”

The MBTA has proposed fare increases as much as 43 percent along with cuts in weeknight commuter rail service after 10 p.m. Bus service throughout the region would also be reduced.
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Federal ban on Burmese python may affect Massachusetts’ residents

Monday, April 9th, 2012

By Mounira Al Hmoud

BOSTON – A federal ban on the importation and interstate transportation of certain types of snakes is not likely to have a major impact in Massachusetts at first sight, but some in the pet industry and pet owners could be affected.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added four types of non-native snake species as injurious under the Lacey Act, which forbids their importation and interstate transportation after March 23. The four species are the North and South African python, also called Rock python, the yellow anaconda, and the Burmese python.

The Lacey Act is a conservation law aimed at protecting plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for trade violations
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Hand-held cellphone bill passes committee

Friday, April 6th, 2012

By Mounira Al Hmoud, The MetroWest Daily News

BOSTON – A Framingham lawmaker, who is backing a bill restricting Massachusetts’s drivers to hands-free cell phones, says he hopes the proposed law will create more awareness of the deadly problem of distracted driving.

“The overall concept is bigger than just texting,” said Rep. Chris Walsh, D-Framingham. “Data from the National Highway Safety shows every year car crashes kill 40,000 people. We do not expect to get a lot of people pulling over to make calls, but we want them to pay more attention to the issue.”

The proposed law, struck from legislation passed two years ago that banned texting while driving, was endorsed 8-0 by the Transportation Joint Committee on Thursday.
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Legislators loath to enact hikes for T

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Lawmakers say there are alternatives to raising gas tax, commuter rail fares

By Rick Sobey, The Salem News

Tue Feb 21, 2012, 04:30 AM EST

BOSTON — Local legislators oppose raising the state’s gas tax and commuter rail fares, saying there are other ways to cover the MBTA’s $161 million deficit, including cracking down on fare cheaters and shifting Big Dig debt.

“At a time when gas prices have risen substantially, it would be ill-advised to raise the gas tax,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester. “There are plenty of other ideas to fix the deficit, and these alternatives need to be fully considered.”

Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville, has sponsored a bill that raises the state’s gas tax by 28 cents per gallon as a way to reduce the public transit system’s growing deficit. If approved, the state’s gas tax would be 51.5 cents.
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Extra snow money could go to help MBTA

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

By Rick SobeyMilford Daily News

BOSTON – With an unseasonably dry and mild winter nearing its end, the state has a surplus of snow and ice removal funds that local legislators hope — barring any major storms — can be used to dig out from a $161 million MBTA deficit.

The state budget for fiscal 2012 set aside $50 million for snow and ice removal. Through Jan. 4, $10.5 million had been spent to clear the roads.

Gov. Deval Patrick said last week he is considering using leftover money to limit service cuts proposed by the MBTA.
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Towns lobby for road construction funds

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

By Rick SobeyMilford Daily News

BOSTON – The Patrick administration’s plan to level fund road and bridge projects at $200 million for the next fiscal year is being met with a chorus of groans from area officials who say they have more projects than money to complete them.

“We never have enough for repairs,” said Milford Highway Surveyor Scott Crisafulli. “We have repairs lined up for the next 10 years, it just never ends. We’re hoping the funding keeps on going up from last year, so we can work on more roads and improve the town.”

Gov. Deval Patrick last week filed a $1.5 billion bond bill that would provide $200 million in road and bridge repair funding for fiscal 2013. In fiscal 2012, there was a $200 million record-high for that portion of Chapter 90 funding.
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Bikers make case for relaxing motorcycle-helmet law

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

December 1, 2011

BOSTON — With the Legislature again considering relaxing the state’s helmet laws, some area motorcyclists say not wearing a helmet should be respected as a matter of personal choice.

“It’s not a death wish, it’s a life choice,” said Paul Cote, the New England region delegate to the American Motorcyclist Association Congress. “The people that ride should be adults and should be able to decide.”

Massachusetts law requires all motorcycle operators and passengers to wear helmets, but bills proposed by Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, and Rep. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, would change that, requiring only those under age 21 to wear helmets.

Cote said there is an economic incentive to pass the legislation because motorcyclists travel to nearby states that do not require helmets and spend money while there.

New Hampshire has no motorcycle-helmet law, while Maine and Connecticut require protective headgear for all riders under age 18. Rhode Island law requires riders under age 21 to wear helmets.

“What you’re missing in Massachusetts is with 185,000 registered bikes, a large portion of them are going out of state every weekend to go ride without a helmet in New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island,” Cote said. “There’s no wall around Massachusetts.”

Lowell motorcyclist Paul Belley said in a phone interview that he often rides to New Hampshire with friends. Belley and his biker buddies remove their helmets as soon as they cross the state line, he said.

“We’ll get a bunch of guys together, stop at a restaurant, do some sightseeing,” said Belley, 56, a charter-boat captain, musician and truck driver. “We do spend money. Bikers are very, very generous.”

Belley said although he prefers to feel the wind in his face on a nice day, he will keep his helmet on in New Hampshire if it is cold outside.

Another Lowell motorcyclist, Michael Mombourquette, compared helmets to the leather jackets many riders wear — safer, but not necessarily comfortable.

“In the summertime, I will go 90 mph with a T-shirt on if it’s hot outside,” said Mombourquette, 46. “If I fell over, there would be pieces of me all up the road. It’s the same idea with the helmet.”

But B.J. Williams, manager of the prevention department of the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts, said there is more to consider than personal choice. He estimated that $12 billion was spent on head injuries around the country last year and said wearing a helmet reduces head injury by nearly 70 percent.

“We look at it from the aspect of safety for everybody on the road,” he said. “Whether it’s somebody who’s driving or someone on a motorcycle, we want to do whatever we can to provide safety and protect them.”

Mombourquette, a former Billerica police officer who now works for Verizon, said finding a balance among personal freedom, safety and social responsibility should be up to individuals.

“If I wipe out and it could have been prevented, I could wind up a vegetable in a hospital for 25 years being supported by tax dollars,” he said. “That’s what you have to consider. It’s something you have to wrestle with.”

Staff writer Chris Camire contributed to this report.

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MBTA workers hope pay-to-ride plan jumps track

Monday, September 26th, 2011

September 23, 2011

BOSTON —MBTA workers are blasting a proposal that would force them to pay to ride the system’s buses and subways.

Active and retired MBTA employees are issued a pass that grants them free access to passenger services, but Beacon Hill lawmakers are considering a bill that would take that access away from retirees and off-duty employees.

The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, comes as the T faces a $160 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year.

Richard Guiney, a member of the Boston Carmen’s Union, Local 589 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said the rides come at no extra cost to the state.

“The cost of this access is included in the wage package negotiated with the MBTA,” he testified in a Joint Committee on Transportation hearing. “It’s not a free ride.”

Guiney said that when MBTA employees are on trains or buses, they often help passengers board and disperse crowds, keeping routes on schedule.

“It’s in the public interest to have trained personnel riding the system, whether they’re active or retired,” he said.

James O’Brien, vice president of the same union, said the number of trips taken by MBTA retirees was so small compared to the total ridership that the fares for those rides would not make a significant impact on the transportation agency’s bottom line.

“It’s like decimal dust,” he said.

MBTA retirees took 137,099 trips last year, accounting for less than 1 percent of the T’s total ridership of 380 million, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

Pesaturo said because the free rides are a part of workers’ compensation, they are negotiated in labor deals with 16 different collective-bargaining units.

While the Legislature tackles the issue of free passes, it’s also being discussed in contract negotiations between the MBTA and union members.

“What this bill would do is basically micro-manage our collective bargaining,” O’Brien said. “It’s a shame to take the collective-bargaining issue out of our hands.”

Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, said the Legislature generally prefers not to get involved in issues that are being actively negotiated.

“Just speaking for myself, my hope is that the process of successful collective bargaining and negotiations will help some resolution occur,” Straus said.

Union member Larry Kelly said a more effective way for the MBTA to save money would be to make sure all stations are fully staffed with agents who can prevent riders from boarding without paying.

“In obvious locations and on obvious days, there are lots of people who are beating the fare system and just going through without paying their fares,” he said. “The effective enforcement of all fares at these locations would result in greater revenue savings than the minimal savings that are realized by removing the T employee passes.”

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Despite increase, road repair funds fall short

Monday, May 9th, 2011

By Garrett BrngerCape Cod Times

April 06, 2011

With the economy on the rocks, a 29 percent increase in funding for road and bridge repair for fiscal 2012 sounds good on paper.

But while they are grateful for the bump during a time of budget deficits, some local officials say the bill signed last week by Gov. Deval Patrick that allocates $200 million in Chapter 90 funds statewide is still not enough to keep all the roads in proper condition.

Sandwich Public Works Director Paul Tilton said the $794,190 the town will receive in fiscal 2012 — which is $175,613 over 2011 — is still too low. “I should be spending $900,000 to $1 million per year to maintain our roads,” Tilton said.

Tilton’s sentiment is backed by the Massachusetts Municipalities Association. Officials from the association said in a hearing on the Chapter 90 bill that a survey of municipalities found $400 million per year is needed to keep up roads and bridges. The association endorsed less than that — $300 million — as a proper amount, and the House toyed with the idea of proposing $250 million.

In the end, the funding level ended up being what Patrick proposed in his budget — $200 million, $45 million more than last year.

Still, the new level of funding means more ground can be covered. Tilton said Sandwich Public Works would be able to finally complete repairs on two miles of Quaker Meetinghouse Road.

“You do what you can each year based upon the funds that are available,” Tilton said. “Ideally, you’d like to do the road all in one summer or fall, but because of the lack of funds we’ve just been doing a third at a time.”

Other municipal officials are happy to have the extra funds but said the rising price of asphalt means the money will only help them maintain the current level of work.

Wellfleet DPW Director Mark Vincent said because he believes the prices will keep rising, his town may have to look into additional state grant programs.

He said the cost for asphalt for the town’s most recent project is about $91 a ton, a figure that has risen steadily over time.

“Probably two years ago we were paying somewhere around $72 to $73 a ton,” Vincent said. “As much as seven or eight years ago we were paying $32 a ton.”

Several towns have had to settle for patches on their roads in recent years because the funds have not been available to do a full tear-up and repaving.

Raymond Jack, Falmouth’s public works director, said the quick fixes only get you so far.

“Unfortunately I think during the lean years, many towns went with soft overlays, which were basically thin coats, about one inch,” Jack said. “That buys you only a few years. It’s been a few years now so we have an inordinate number of roads that fit that bill and are failing.”

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T officials deliver apology

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

By Allison McKinnonThe Sun Chronicle

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Train pulls into Attleboro station. (Staff file photo by Tom Maguire.)

BOSTON – Calling commuter rail breakdowns and delays over the long, brutal winter “unacceptable,” transportation officials apologized to state legislators Tuesday and pledged to improve communication and review maintenance procedures to rebuild train service.

“We are committed to strengthening our operation and we are learning the lessons of this past winter to improve reliability for next winter,” MBTA General Manager Richard Davey told the Joint Committee on Transportation.

Davey was among officials from the MBTA, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company and Massachusetts Department of Transportation called in to testify about weather-related and mechanical failures that stranded countless commuters this winter.

Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan blamed the system’s aging locomotives for the delays. The MBTA is in the process of replacing or overhauling the engines that have exceeded their 20-year life expectancy.

“The commuter rail utilizes 60 locomotives each day, and we have 18 locomotives that are more than 20 years old,” he said. “We are aggressively trying to get improved equipment.” In January, the MBTA introduced to the fleet two 16-year-old locomotives – the newest in the state.

The diesel-electric locomotives were leased from the Utah Transit Authority, and the MBTA is in negotiations to lease seven additional locomotives from Utah, Davey said.

Mullan also blamed delays on track switches that short-circuited because heaters attached to them could not melt the snow fast enough.

Mullan said of the 1,800 workers the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Company employs, about 1,200 are maintenance workers.

Retraining them to look for early signs of equipment problems is a major part of the company’s plans to reduce future delays, he said.

Davey said the number of delays over the winter months were “unacceptable” for customers, and promised to improve communications to riders about delays. He said the MBTA likely would make a decision by the end of the year on whether to renew its contract with the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, the private venture contracted to operate commuter rail lines.

The contract with the MBCR runs through mid-2013, but Davey said at least 18 months likely would be needed if the agency picks a new contractor or takes over operation of the system itself.

Still, Davey tried to put the delays into context, noting that 2,800 trains operated with delays of nine minutes or less during one of Massachusetts’ harshest winters in years.

Davey said that while 78 percent of commuter trains ran on time from December through February, that simply wasn’t good enough.

He said the MBTA has streamlined the process of issuing alerts to commuter via text, email or on MBTA.com, as well as broadcasting information on an AM radio signal at commuter rail parking lots so commuters can wait for updates in their cars.

“During any storm, information is as important as the service itself,” Davey said.

Social media such as Twitter was used for the first time to update customers during storms this past winter and was also available for customers to register their opinions.

In a few weeks, Davey said the MBTA plans to unveil “Commuter Connect,” a new communication tool that will allow riders to take and send pictures of damaged MBTA vehicles or structures directly to the maintenance management team.

“This tool will greatly enhance the speed to address and potentially schedule repairs,” he said. “We will respond to 95 percent of these issues within five days. Even if it’s just to say ‘We’ll get back to you’ or ‘We’ve fixed it,’ our customers deserve answers.”

Former MBTA executive James O’Leary told the committee that commuter rail ridership had increased 400 percent over the last 30 years but there had been little equipment modernization.

The legislative committee, chaired by Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, and Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, took testimony only from officials at Tuesday’s oversight hearing. It scheduled another hearing for May 3, when riders would be invited to speak.