Better, Faster, Cheaper

What’s a Fair Fare?

Like so much of government, transit agencies walk a tightrope between providing a public service and not breaking the bank. Thanks to advances in smart-card technology, transit policymakers can now use income-based fare discounts to take a more nuanced approach to the public service-vs.-efficiency challenge. But the fundamental tension -- and the need to focus on customer service -- remains.

Nowhere is the balance between access and solvency harder to achieve than in Boston, a compact metropolitan area that relies heavily on transit. The region's density and high cost of living must be weighed against the fragile physical condition and precarious finances of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). The agency owes about $9 billion in debt and interest, it faces a maintenance backlog of more than $7 billion, and it famously collapsed under the weight of this year's brutal winter. READ MORE

Infrastructure and the Need for Regional Clout

A new report from the Bay Area Economic Council, a business-sponsored public-policy advocacy group, reminds us that economies are regional and so are solutions to area transportation and housing problems. While "A Roadmap for Economic Resilience" focuses on the needs of northern California's booming San Francisco Bay Area, it holds lessons for almost every large metropolitan region.

Infrastructure is supposed to facilitate economic growth, but all too often the tail wags the dog as growth outstrips the capacity of infrastructure. Bay Area Rapid Transit ridership has increased by 55 percent since 1998 and is at capacity during rush hours. More than 20 percent of Bay Area commutes now take 45 minutes or more. One reason for the long commutes is that people are moving ever farther from cities in pursuit of affordable housing. But the savings on housing costs are often counterbalanced by dramatically higher transportation costs. READ MORE

What a Truly Connected City Can Accomplish

People do not experience their urban habitats as fragmented collections of residences, businesses and municipal agencies; instead, they experience their community as a singular whole. Yet fashioning these various community elements into a shared purpose poses a daunting challenge.

Karl Dean, who recently finished his second term as mayor of the consolidated government of Nashville and Davidson County, was particularly effective in connecting the familiar "one city" rhetoric to actionable principles and real results. Dean led Nashville as a single, networked entity with many moving parts. Though he never worked up any kind of formal "one Nashville" plan, he was fond of emphasizing to city stakeholders that "everything is connected." READ MORE

A Simple (But Hard) Way for Governments to Stay Out of Pension Trouble

Chicago's fiscal 2016 budget is like a cautionary tale about what happens when state and local governments fail to deal with long-festering pension problems. A policy brief published in September by the libertarian Reason Foundation offers sound advice about one of the ways to avoid Chicago's fate.


A Reel Bad Deal on Tax Giveaways

Those who doubt that the amount of economic-development tax breaks that state and local governments dole out has careened out of control should take a look at some newly revealed information about Massachusetts' film tax credit.

The credit, which offers filmmakers a 25 percent rebate if they spend at least $50,000 in Massachusetts, has always been a bad deal. Last year alone, it cost taxpayers $88 million in foregone revenue. Between 2006 and 2012, only about one-third of the spending the credits are estimated to have generated took place in Massachusetts, and a similar percentage of the jobs that were created were local ones. When you add it all up, taxpayers paid more than $118,000 for each new Massachusetts job attributable to the tax credit. READ MORE