Who’s John Galt?

Today, I was standing in a Commuter Rail train without electricity. This got me thinking about the MBTA's business model and how much value I get from taking the train to work everyday.


One of the many great things that I like about living in Swampscott is the fact that we don’t need a second car. I can walk to the beautiful historic and take the MBTA Commuter Rail into Boston. The ride is less than half an hour and costs me $163 per month for unlimited use even on the weekends and also includes the T. Compared to the cost and aggravation of driving to Boston back and forth everyday it’s a great value. And I'm not even missing out on listening to our local Talk 1200 radio host Jeff Katz in the morning thanks to the the free Wi-Fi service on many Commuter Rail trains."

Well, unfortunately there is a downside to all this. MBTA service can be spotty and unreliable. Like today when a train without any electricity was stranded at the Swampscott station and then carefully and slowly pushed into Boston. Thanks to the really friendly and thoroughly communicating conductor this didn’t turn out to be quite as unpleasant as these things can be. According to her record they had two broken engines to choose from when they left Newburyport and went with the one that was still moving — until they came to Swampscott and the power went out.

Again, this kind of event is not untypical. Trains are late, break down, T-service can be very unreliable, and so forth. And in the news we hear about the MBTA's ongoing and worsening financial situation that will make events like the one today more likely — maybe even to a point where things become a safety concern. A lot of what one can witness everyday on our public transportation system reminds me of the rather grim scenes from “Atlas Shrugged” often supported by the same kind of “Who’s John Galt?” attitude as in “I just work here…”.

There is lots of outrage at the moment over the MBTA’s announcement to a) increase fares AND b) limit services (sounds a bit like the government’s most recent ideas for healthcare but that’s for another day…).  I even got an invitation to sign one of the local “Move On” petitions which I respectfully declined. The problem is that neither the MBTA’s “solution” nor the outcry over it addresses any of the root causes.

As I said before the daily commute at $163 is a great value to me — in more than one way. A good pricing model should reflect value. I assume that the MBTA’s pricing model is based on something different than value. In fact, I’ve been saying for years that I suspect that the price for my ticket is too low — and that I’d rather spend more for better and more reliable service. I’ve been getting “the look” for that remark usually. But it looks that at least the first half of my suggestion will soon become a reality.

For the second part we may have to wait until people start to seriously question the business model as a public transportation system that is sucked dry by union demands, public officials and often unmotivated employees. I know, “the look” again. Unfortunately, this old model is failing left and right and not only in the United States. Comparisons with Greece have become a little too popular lately but you get the drift. Maybe things have to get a lot worse before they get better. See you on the train.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mark Chulsky January 31, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Thank you. I'm afraid you are right. I've heard the heaters were removed from the Wonderland station waiting area.
William R. DiMento January 31, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Olaf: A great piece,other than writing this Patch comment,now tell me what you are doing to improve the situation.We know throwing money at a problem doesn't work. (additional millions pumped into education since Ed Reform act with negligible results) What is so bad about getting the "look" ? Please take the next step and be a change agent
Olaf Faeskorn January 31, 2012 at 07:08 PM
William, I'd be happy to be a "change agent" but usually find myself in a position where I still hold the minority view. I also understand that certain fields will always be difficult, private or public - public transportation, education, healthcare - just to name a few that are very complex and quick fixes usually don't go anywhere. However, one pattern that is common among many fields, organizations (or even countries) is the degree to which personal responsibility is replaced with the "moral hazards" of collectivism. We see that in union-run operations like the MBTA, we see it in the union-run education systems, we see it with companies like GM - well we actually see it in our Swampscott town budget that is dominated by liabilities connected to the public sector employees and the schools. My MBTA example shows that this way of doing business does not increase value - and that pricing structures don't follow any of the understanding gained since the good old "cost plus x" way of thinking. What does this mean for the MBTA? Hard to say. Tweaking prices and weekend services won't cut it - that much I know. One suggestion would be to keep the rails public and let various private companies compete while paying for it. But I know that few people even want to discuss ideas like that.
David Whelan January 31, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Here's a place to start and it requires action. It requires a few phone calls and historically people have done nothing but complain. The Governor's ch 70 allocations fy 13 cheat Swampscott out of $802,000. Call your legislators. Call the Governor. Call House and Senate leadership. $802k either reduces your RE tax, pays for programs, salaries, or a combination of the above. Don't call the Selectmen and SC because they know about the problem and they ARE calling the referenced people. Email me at davidwhelanjr@gmail.com for this yrs analysis. It's sobering.
Olaf Faeskorn February 01, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Louis, In all fairness, I can appreciate William's comment in that a great many people complain (in public or private) about this and that and the other without trying to actually change anything or even trying to get a complete picture of the facts - and restrictions. But then again, we've seen enough "change for change's sake" over the last few years. And of course few people will agree with each other on what meaningful change should look like. Even within parties. That's good and healthy and part of the American way. We had enough "reaching across the isle" already that results in ever bigger government and a shift away from local and personal impact. Of course we can argue over how we may get the $800K back that Swampscott apparently has been cheated out. But at the local level there is now little left we can do about the underlying problems that are due to the fact that towns like Swampscott have been stripped of many of the powers they should have. Of course, those people who believe that Title this and Title that as a means of redistribution is the way to go should feel OK about it - especially since they can rely on de-facto one party rule in this state so they can assure that they themselves still "get their fair share".
Olaf Faeskorn February 01, 2012 at 02:39 PM
And I actually sense change. I don't think that the election of Senator Brown was a fluke. When collecting signatures for various candidates over the last couple of years I've run into quite a few "life-long Democrats" who are utterly frustrated.
David Whelan February 01, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Lou: Making a call takes five minutes. No one asking you to run for office.
William R. DiMento February 02, 2012 at 05:20 AM
so where doesa that leave us? Can we come up with an possible course of action that will get us equality in the battle for Chapter 70 funding. Maybe a petition signed by all 10,000 Swampscott voters asserting that not one of us will voter for Deval p;atrick because he refuses to correct the inequity? I do know that collectively (not a dirty word) we can make a difference. Only 18 % of the registered voters actually voted on the Police Staion override vote? So less than 10 % of the voters spent over seven million dollars to build a Police Station in a swamp. What is that about. We may not be able to fix the MBTA but we can stop the jocks from spending two million dollars to artificial turf the football field and spend the two million on a severlly compromised storm drain system.The assistant town enginner informed me the sewerage pumping station normally pumps two million gallons of sewerage a day to Lynn treatment.We pay acorrding to how much we pump. When it rains there is so much infiltration from storm drains into the sewer system that on rainy days we pump TWENTY MILLION GALLONS PER DAY.Which is more important? Fixing the leaking storm drains (hundreds of flooded homes) or a floating carpet on the football field ? This issue has nothing to do with left or right, just common sense
William R. DiMento February 02, 2012 at 05:22 AM
so okay I did not spell check, it is late


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »