Transportation in Massachusetts

Posted on Monday 13 November 2006

Jason over at Pelican in Her Piety has pointed out two excellent editorials in the Boston Globe. The first is on the right to privacy and the right to public safety and the recent policy of swabbing and searching bags on the MBTA. The second is on the Mass Turnpike Authority’s recent decision to lift tolls on much of the Massachusetts Turnpike, I-90.

Bag Searches and the Right to Privacy

One thing I would like to point out about the recent MBTA decision to swab and search bags of passengers is there is significant difference between consenting to a search of your bag and allowing your bag to be searched without your consent.

If you consent to have your bag searched, you have effectively given up much of your Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

As I recall from when similar searches were implemented in NYC, If the police officers find something that may be illegal, such as marijuana, or stolen goods, if you have consented to a bag search, it is admissible in court against you. However, if you have agreed to let them search your bag, but do not consent to the search, anything they find that is not materially related to the reason for the search—such as weapons, explosives, etc—is likely to get tossed out of court as there was no cause for them to search the bag otherwise.

As I am not an attorney, you may want to check the validity of this, as this is primarily based on my recollection of articles written when similar searches were being implemented by the New York MTA. My understanding is that if you are asked to have your bag searched, you should say that “I consent to nothing, but if you are requiring me to submit to a search, then I will comply.

For more information on bag searches and public transportation, I would recommend Kip Esquire’s blog articles located here.

Tolls and MBTA Fares

Recently, two things have occurred that will adversely affect Massachusetts and the transportation situation here. First, the MBTA recently announced a price hike. The second is the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is seeking to eliminate tolls on a major portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The cost of a “token” will go from $1.25 to $1.70, and monthly pass fees will increase between 23% and 28%. Part of the cost is to offset the stagnant sales tax revenues, which supplied the bulk of the MBTA’s funding. Part of the increase is to offset the costs of implementing a new “Charlie Card” based fare collection system, with the eventual goal of eliminating tokens and the use of cash on the trains and buses.

However, any time you increase fares on a public transportation system, ridership usually drops, leaving the system with less than the expected increase in revenue, as the fare increases are often offset by the drop in ridership. If you add this to the Mass Turnpike Authority’s goal to eliminate most of the tolls on the Mass Turnpike, it is very likely that you will see traffic into and out of Boston increase markedly, and MBTA rider numbers drop.

It would make far more sense to keep the Mass Pike tolls at current levels, or even to raise them a bit, and to keep the MBTA fares at current levels or minimize the size of the fare increase. This would likely shift commuters, especially from the MetroWest suburbs from driving in to taking the commuter rail and the MBTA subway. This would also reduce traffic congestion slightly, while helping improve air quality, by reducing the number of cars that are used for the daily commute.

For more information, I would recommend you read Jason’s article on Forward Funding and the MBTA.

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