Activists lined up to testify in a packed hearing Monday on the MBTA’s proposals to close an estimated $185 million funding deficit at the Boston Public Library. A crowd of more than 400 rallied outside the building against the agency’s proposals to increase fares and cut services.
High school students, disabled activists, senior citizens and labor activists were among the crowd that assembled on the Dartmouth St. sidewalk and filled the Rabb Lecture Hall where the hearing was held.
The MBTA is proposes raising bus fares from the current $1.25 to $1.75, and train fares from $1.70 to $2.40. In addition, train fares for senior citizens would increase from $.60 to $1.50.
Service cuts would also include the elimination of numerous bus routes and an end to weekend service on the commuter rail, the E branch on the Green Line, the Mattapan trolley line and several dozen bus routes. They also propose closing all ferry routes.
“These cuts are affecting people — not those in corporations, but those who need the T to go to work, to school, people who can’t afford cars,” said Royal Nunes, an activist who took the afternoon off from work to attend the demonstration.
The demonstration was the largest yet in protest of the MBTA’s proposed fare hikes and service cuts. In addition to transit activists affiliated with the Alternatives to Community and Environment, members of the Occupy Boston movement were in attendance along with members of the Mass Senior Action Council, Mass Uniting and several youth organizations.
“People’s livelihoods are being threatened,” said Lee Matsueda, who heads ACE’s Transit Riders Union. “We have to make sure people understand that this system is a lifeline.”
Among those who offered testimony were students, who spoke against the MBTA’s proposed doubling of fees for the monthly student pass, which currently costs $20. Senior citizens, who would face the same doubling in cost of their $20 monthly pass also spoke out against proposals to cut routes many use to obtain services.
“There are going to be people who are not going to be able to get to school,” said Ramey Beckett, a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, speaking outside the auditorium.
Beckett also said the higher fares would inhibit students’ ability to participate in after school programs.
“Everyone has things to do after school,” she said. “Colleges are looking for more and more activities. But a lot of us can’t get jobs in this economy. I’m very concerned that kids won’t be able to afford a pass.”
Disabled riders, who depend on the MBTA’s The Ride van service would see the cost of a fare hiked from the current $2 to as high as $12.
“The current proposal unduly affects our most vulnerable residents,” said Mayor Thomas Menino, who testified in the hearing. “For many people, the T isn’t the 2nd choice — it’s their only choice.”
Menino also argued the service cuts and fare hikes would negatively affect the region’s economy and advocated new taxes to pay for the service.
“We must identify dedicated revenues for the MBTA,” he said. “You can’t do surgery with a first aid kit.”
Historically, the MBTA’s budget was funded by allocations from the state budget fares, revenues from advertising and leases on MBTA-owned real estate. But in the 1990s, the Legislature cut funding for the T, dedicating a smaller revenue stream from the state’s sales tax to the agency’s budget.
At the same time, the Legislature transferred $2 billion in debt from the Big Dig highway reconstruction project to the agency.
Saddled with interest payments on that debt and dogged by declining revenues from the sales tax, the MBTA has been running yearly deficits, despite record-high ridership.
Many in the crowd Monday echoed Menino’s call for a long-term fix to the MBTA’s funding problems.
“Please remove the Big Dig debt from the MBTA’s books,” Jamaica Plain resident David Hyman urged in his testimony.
Matsueda said the Transit Riders Union is working with organizations in other parts of the state to increase state funding for the MBTA and other regional transit authorities.
“We’re connecting with these groups to talk about how we’re going to take this to the Legislature,” Matsueda said
Jamaica Plain resident Diane Simpson urged attendees at the library hearing to contact their legislators and ask for more funding for the T.
“The T is the equivalent of a public utility,” she said. “Everyone needs equal access to it.”
For most Boston School students, the MBTA is the system that makes their education attainable. But for some students, the $20 to pay for their monthly pass can be an insurmountable barrier that blocks them from graduation.
Devonte Jordan learned that lesson the hard way last year. Jordan was often unable to come up with the funds for his pass and began missing classes at Charlestown High. Missed classes led to failed classes and Jordan left, rather than finishing a year he was doomed to repeat.
Gov. Deval Patrick last week named Richard Davey, the general manager of the MBTA, to fill the state's top transportation job, putting him at the helm of a sprawling bureaucracy that Patrick said remained "overburdened" with debt from the Big Dig project.
Davey will succeed Jeffrey Mullan on Sept. 1 as Secretary of Transportation and chief executive of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, with oversight of key public assets including highways, public transportation and airports.
The MBTA and state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) are trying to work out one final issue to clear the way for the proposed extension of a walking and biking path that appears likely to be constructed mostly on the Mattapan side of the Neponset River.
Richard Davey, general manager of the MBTA, said the mass transit agency has agreed to all but one request from the DCR, which has been planning the extension of the Neponset River Trail. For safety reasons, the MBTA has balked at the proposed path crossing the trolley tracks near Mattapan Station at ground level.