BOSTON -- The Boston Globe's editorial board is defending Governor Baker's common-sense and innovative reforms for the MBTA against entrenched special interest attacks. The Globe editorial from this weekend dismissed over-the-top criticisms from Carmen's Union President James O'Brien as "phony," pointing out that the Governor's plan to leverage private-sector efficiency for some MBTA services amounts to "doing what he said he would." The paper lauds the plan, asserting, "Baker deserves credit" for serious efforts to reform the agency.
During the recent debate about freeing the MBTA from the Pacheco law, which makes it hard to contract out any services currently performed by state workers, Baker administration officials were asked what they would do if they won such a reprieve. One oft-repeated example was turning little-used late-night bus routes over to private vendors, who would employ smaller buses than the T uses.
Having won a three-year break from Pacheco, the Baker administration is now exploring the possibility of contracting out that service, as well as other low-ridership and express bus routes. That exploration has brought a loud protest from Boston Carmen’s Union President James O’Brien, who calls it “a betrayal.”
“The governor has said ‘No privatization, no cuts in service, no layoffs,’ and here he is, privatizing,” he told the Globe last week. O’Brien bases his comments in part on Baker’s testimony at a legislative hearing, during which the governor said: “We want to fix the T. I do not want to privatize the T. I do not want to slash services. I do not want to lay off hundreds of employees.”
But this hardly constitutes a privatization of the T. And though it may reduce T overtime, it’s not a move intended to result in layoffs at the agency or cuts in service. Rather, the administration says T drivers and buses freed up by contracting out those routes would be reassigned to improve service on higher-demand bus routes.
Asked about his criticism, O’Brien said his understanding was that Baker wanted the Pacheco law suspended so he could more easily fix the transit agency’s infrastructure. Reminded that administration officials actually did talk about contracting out late-night bus service, the union chief noted that there hadn’t been any talk of privatizing express or low-ridership routes. Not specifically, perhaps, but those routes fall into the same kind of category as the lightly used late-night routes; altogether, those three categories account for less than 2.5 percent of the T’s weekly bus rides. O’Brien added that he doesn’t trust the administration’s assertion that the aim behind any such move isn’t to lay off workers but rather to redeploy them to improve core T services.
Whatever his motivation, however, he’s wrong to portray this as some sort of bait-and-switch by the governor, who is simply doing what he said he would. For that, Baker deserves credit — and not an unfair attempt portray him as a double-dealer.