Baker: Big climb still ahead for MBTA

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BOSTON — Improvements at the MBTA are moving the transit system “in the right direction,” Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday, but an “enormously significant climb” remains ahead.

Speaking at a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation forum exploring the future needs of the state’s transportation infrastructure, Baker reiterated his call for a focus on the T’s “core system” to create a “reliable, predictable and dependable product” for riders.

Baker said his priorities for the MBTA are “reliability, modernization and expansion, in that order.”

“Now, there’s no question that there’s work to do, broadly speaking, and if you look at where a big part of the five-year capital plan on the T side is focused, it’s on the core systems, and it’s built off of those three measures — reliability, modernization and expansion,” Baker said. “Now in that context, we . . . are going to have to roll that thing out in a way that works on the premise that we’re going to chase projects and opportunities that we believe need to be done and that we believe we can do effectively.”

The taxpayers foundation on Thursday released a transportation-focused report that pegged “inferior” data quality in asset management systems, the inability to properly manage projects, and a lack of accountability on how money is spent as challenges to adequately addressing the capital needs of the transportation system.

The report recommended that officials focus on talent, leadership and improvements to data and systems to prevent “future erosion of the infrastructure.”

“Transportation is a vital component to the commonwealth’s economic and fiscal health,” foundation president Eileen McAnneny said. “Like clean air and water, a well-run transportation system is fundamental to the population’s well-being. It may take all of our collective efforts because the problems are multifaceted and deeply entrenched.”

Baker said he believes core system investments can grow ridership, with people encouraged to take the T when they feel they can depend on it. Traditionally, he said, the mindset around public transit has been that “the only way you get more riders is to build more spurs and more extensions and more track into different places.”

As an example, Baker said it could be possible to increase MBTA capacity by upgrading its signaling and switching technology, which he said limits “how close the trains can get.” An upgrade could allow more trains to move through a station in shorter periods of time, he said.

“Most of our technology is not technology. It’s mechanical,” Baker said.

— Written by Katie Lannan

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