A parade of 75 speakers, including many Jamaica Plain officials and residents, blasted the MBTA’s proposed fare hike and service cuts at a Roxbury Community College meeting on Jan. 19. Another meeting was slated to be held Wednesday night in JP as the Gazette went to press.
At least 250 people attended the Jan. 19 meeting. A few people were willing to pay higher fares, but no one wanted service cuts. Those include killing the E Line subway/streetcar on the weekends and eliminating most of the JP Loop bus, among other slashings.
Attention quickly focused on the MBTA’s $5.5 billion debt and funding issues as the real problems.
“None of these people in this room had anything to do with these problems and the solution cannot be on their backs,” said Mission Hill resident Rich Giordano, summing up the situation.
Clad in a “Don’t X Out Public Transit” T-shirt, JP resident Ralph Walton said, “Massachusetts is a commonwealth. A commonwealth is an organization that pools its resources to take care of its needs.” He called on the state legislature to fix the MBTA’s flawed funding system.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez indicated that some kind of tax increase will be required. Both have proposed gas tax increases before, but legislators from Western Mass. have not approved.
“In the inner city, we should be growing public transit, not contracting it,” said Sánchez, saying the cuts would harm businesses, cultural institutions, low-income residents and public health.
“Why here? Why in this community with this particular line?” he added about the E Line cut—one of only two light rail cuts in the plan, both of which are in low-income neighborhoods.
“The responsibility…lies with the legislature” to fix the T’s funding problems, said Chang-Díaz. She pointed out that a lot of the MBTA’s debt comes from projects required as mitigation for the car-centered Big Dig highway project downtown.
The majority of the debt is in the form of bonds, according to MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo. The bonds were issued to fund projects going as far back as 30 years, or to get an advance on expected tax revenues, Pesaturo said.
Sánchez later told the Gazette that the idea of a gas tax increase as “like a bomb” in the state legislature. He said House leadership has vowed to review the public meetings for input, and meanwhile “they’re going to hold off on anything substantial right now.”
At-large City Councilor Felix Arroyo, a JP resident, told the Gazette that he is especially concerned about how the proposal would impact Boston Public Schools (BPS), which subsidizes T passes for students and is already struggling with budget troubles.
“We can’t make it difficult for students to go to school,” Arroyo said.
“We certainly share the councilor’s concern,” said BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder, adding that BPS is bracing for a $1 million increase in pass expenses.
Service cuts are not abstract issues for Egleston Square area City Councilor Tito Jackson, who does not have a car.
He said that paying more and getting less “doesn’t make sense to me and doesn’t make sense to the people I represent.” He called fare increases “an unfair tax on the poor, essentially,” and later told the Gazette that the cuts would choke the state’s economic development.
City Councilor Mike Ross, who represents part of Hyde Square, called the proposed local cuts “penny wise and, unfortunately, pound foolish.”
“We cannot cut it. That is not the solution,” he said, calling on the state and federal governments to step up.
Joining local residents in opposition were officials from such major institutions as Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Northeastern University and Wentworth Institute of Technology. Other organizations joining the protests included Occupy Boston, the T Riders Union and the Massachusetts Senior Action Council.
Sarah Horsley, a JP resident Fenway Community Development Corporation employee, noted the unity of such a diverse group of people against the plan.
“We’re not always on the same side of an issue, but we’re all here tonight saying this is not acceptable,” she said.
Riding the Orange Line to the meeting, the Gazette saw reminders of some of the MBTA’s challenges. The train ran late because of “switching problems,” a common trouble on the MBTA’s aging lines. In one of the cars was an advertisement offering help to people in financial trouble headline, “Are you staying afloat?”
The MBTA is struggling to close a $161 million budget gap for this year alone and must do so by July 1 under state law. For more about the plan, see mbta.com. Comments are being accepted at [email protected] or Fare Proposal, 10 Park Plaza, Suite 3910, Boston, MA 02116.