The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority

Created by: Hannah Hunter
Time Period: 19th Century, 20th Century
Topic: Infrastructure

In 1894, Boston was authorized to build the first subway system in the United States, a pivotal undertaking in terms of public transportation. [1] For over a century mass public transportation in Boston changed, shifting from the private, financially unstable Boston Elevated Railway Company to the modernized, publicly funded, popular, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. This shift from private to publicly funded public transportation made transportation in Boston more accessible, and set the standard for years to come. The Boston Elevated Railway Company (The El), a privately owned corporation began in 1894. The El absorbed the largest Boston streetcar company and expanded throughout the next half century until it faced financial problems. To deal with these financial problems, the El became a “temporary public trusteeship” but with the invention of the automobile and its rapid growth the El inevitably suffered financially once more. [2]

On July 2, 1894, the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the incorporation of the Boston Elevated Railway Company (BERY) and creation of the Boston Transit Commission.

On July 2, 1894, the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the incorporation of the Boston Elevated Railway Company (BERY) and creation of the Boston Transit Commission.

In 1919, the Public Control Act was enacted, imposing a flat five-cent fare for the El, guaranteeing public transportation to the community while simultaneously providing stockholders protection from financial loss.[3] Eventually, the El could not keep up with increasing costs regardless of the five-cent rate and in 1947, the Metropolitan Transit Authority absorbed the Boston Elevated Transit Company, and became a government entity. [4] 0165During the late 1950’s public transportation began to change tremendously. Expressways and super highways were being built and cities became congested with automobiles. Urban planners, community leaders, and legislators began searching for a solution to combat these problems of urban regional mass transportation. Their work led to a comprehensive master plan resulting in the expansion of the Greater Boston urban core mass transportation system and the integration of its mass transit services.[5] In 1964, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) succeeded the MTA, with an enlarged service area intended to subsidize continued commuter rail operations. “The original 14-municipality MTA district was expanded to 78 cities and towns. Several lines were briefly cut back while contracts with out-of-district towns were reached.”[6]

Current MBTA map

Current MBTA map

The Boston Transit Commission, a public body, financed construction, while the private West End Street Railway operated the line and serviced its debt. “Public money was also required to build the country’s largest subway system in New York—foreshadowing the growing role of the state in mass transit in the second half of the 20th century.”[7]  In 1964, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) began funding capital improvements for public mass transit agencies. The MBTA used this funding and modernized 10 of its mass transit stations and still to this day uses UMTA funds. These UMTA funds helped purchase a network of commuter rail lines that helped start the commuter rail network that is still in place today. The MBTA sparked a new era in public transit controlled by the public and this public funding has allowed the MBTA to keep its status as one of the five largest public transit systems in the United States.[8]

Bibliography:

[1] Young, Jay. “Infrastructure: Mass Transit in 19th- and 20th-Century Urban America.” American History: Oxford Research Encyclopedias. March 1, 2015. Accessed March 19, 2015. http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-28.

[2] McGowan, Richard. Privatize This? Assessing the Opportunities and Costs of Privatization. Sant Barbara, California: Praeger, 2011. 128-129.

[3] Kimball, George. “Boston Elevated Railway Origin.” Celebrate Boston. Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.celebrateboston.com/mbta/boston-elevated-railway-origin.htm.

[4] ibd

[5] “About the MBTA.” Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. Accessed March 10, 2015. http://www.mbta.com/about_the_mbta/history/?id=962.

[6] Belcher, Johnathan. “Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA District 1964-2014.” Http://www.transithistory.org/. December 27, 2014. Accessed March 10, 2015. http://www.transithistory.org/roster/MBTARouteHistory.pdf.

[7] Young, Jay. “Infrastructure: Mass Transit in 19th- and 20th-Century Urban America.” American History: Oxford Research Encyclopedias. March 1, 2015. Accessed March 19, 2015. http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-28.

[8] McGowan, Richard. Privatize This? Assessing the Opportunities and Costs of Privatization. Sant Barbara, California: Praeger, 2011. 128-129.

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