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Walsh, transit activists blast MBTA service cuts

Independent MBTA advisory board calls cuts unnecessary

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Walsh, transit activists blast MBTA service cuts
Alternatives for Community and Environment Program Director Lee Matsueda speaks against proposed MBTA service cuts during a press conference outside the Government Center station. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, MAYOR’S OFFICE

Mayor Martin Walsh joined transit activists in opposing the MBTA’s proposed service cuts, holding a press conference in front of Government Center Monday. Shortly after, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak announced at a board meeting his recommendation to defer the conversation on service reduction to a later meeting.

“I’ve made the following request of staff and I make the following recommendation to the board: that we defer the presentation of the initial round of potential service reductions to next week’s meeting, that we continue to work with our labor stakeholders to determine the best ways to reduce costs and preserve the resiliency of the MBTA, and that we potentially defer some decisions on service to the FY22 budget process where it’s feasible for us to have that flexibility,” Poftak said.

Mayor Martin Walsh addresses reporters during a press conference on the MBTA’s proposed service cuts. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, MAYOR’S OFFICE

Mayor Martin Walsh addresses reporters during a press conference on the MBTA’s proposed service cuts. PHOTO: JOHN WILCOX, MAYOR’S OFFICE

The mayor took the side of several unions, city officials and organizers during his press conference, asserting that cuts, especially on the E line, will hurt the public, crowd trains, and slow recovery from the pandemic.

The proposed cuts would eliminate 25 bus routes and reduce service on 60 others, as well as cut all bus and train service at midnight, reduce the frequency of all trains and stop the E branch of the Green Line at Brigham Circle.

“With the recent developments on the COVID-19 vaccines, we could see, and we will see an increase in ridership soon,” Walsh said.

Not only do essential workers rely on the T, he said, but veterans rely on the service to the VA Hospital via the E line.

“So I’m asking, demanding that the [FMCB] will go back, sit down with the Legislature and come up with a plan that’s an equitable plan,” he said.

Though the MBTA is considering cuts because of a lack in ridership, the MBTA’s independent advisory board reported on Dec. 4 that the MBTA overestimated the budget deficit and may not need to cut service at all.

“The Advisory Board’s independent analysis of the MBTA’s Forging Ahead initiative finds no budgetary justification to cut so much public transportation service at this time,” the Advisory Board’s report reads.

“Our review finds that the projected fiscal year 2022 (FY22) deficit is smaller by $124 million than stated by the MBTA. This negates the need to slash transit service to net $112 million. In consideration of this, and the uncertainties of future commuting patterns, the Advisory Board recommends that the Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) not authorize major service changes now,” it says.

They instead propose that the MBTA cut some pandemic cleaning services and rely on reimbursement from FEMA.

“While the Advisory Board’s proposal carries more risk than the MBTA’s, we believe that when these risks are weighed against the plans to eliminate service, they are risks worth taking,” they wrote.

Reinforcing the mayor’s criticism, City Council President Kim Janey highlighted the adverse effects of cuts on the Black communities.

“There are already gross inequities in the MBTA service, without the proposed cuts,” Janey said, “These communities are routinely underserved, with Black commuters spending 64 more hours on buses per year than white commuters.”

She and the rest of the City Council signed a resolution opposing the cuts in November. The Boston Chamber of Commerce also formally advised against cutting service, saying in a statement that the MBTA should not drive up demand.

“A clearer picture of potential federal funding is also important because it may reduce the need for service changes. The Chamber and many other business groups continue to advocate for another federal COVID-19 relief package that includes assistance for transportation authorities,” Chamber President James Rooney wrote in a letter to the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board.

Poftak and the MBTA did not elaborate on when they will resume the presentation and vote on cuts after moving it from Dec. 7.