Local officials pledged to come up with a budget solution. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation circulated a petition. Bikes Not Bombs announced a night of political lobbying. Occupy JP held up signs saying, “Increase fairness, not fares.”
The tactics varied, but the response from over 150 people was the same: a rejection of the MBTA’s proposed fare increases and service cuts, which were presented at a Feb. 1 meeting at the Hennigan Elementary School on Heath Street.
Crippled by funding problems and debt, and facing a $161 million deficit this year alone, the MBTA is proposing a brutal budget that the agency itself clearly does not like.
In Jamaica Plain, the cuts would include killing the Green Line subway/streetcar service on weekends and cutting back the Route 38 “JP Loop” bus that serves many seniors. The Needham Line commuter trains would not run on weekends or late nights, and several other bus routes would be cut back as well.
The fare hikes would be either 35 or 43 percent on standard trips, and up to 500 percent on the RIDE, which serves people with disabilities.
Residents speaking against the plan included commuters who would not be able to get to work and disabled people who might not be able to go anywhere at all.
State legislators are working on a funding fix, but said it is difficult in tight economic times and with little support from suburban and rural colleagues whose constituents may not ride the T. There was much talk of raising the gas tax, but that will be politically difficult and probably would only be a piece of the funding puzzle.
Jay Gonzalez, the chief budget-writer for Gov. Deval Patrick, attended the meeting, though he did not speak.
Residents had many funding ideas of their own, including that the MBTA crack down on rampant fare evaders. But some of the ideas were based on misinformation.
Several speakers claimed that the MBTA’s debt is owed to giant banks that got federal bailout money and should forgive the debt in return. But the debt did not come from bank loans. It is in the form of state bonds that are publicly traded and may be owned by individual people, mutual funds, insurance companies, banks and any other kind of investor.
“In short, there is no large concentration of bonds at one institution,” the MBTA said in a written statement to the Gazette.
Many officials and residents urged the MBTA to drop its proposal and instead join in lobbying the state to fix the budget problems. Officials also urged people to get friends who live in suburban and rural areas to pressure their legislators.
“I think everyone in the Commonwealth should be concerned” about the cuts, MBTA Acting General Manager Jonathan Davis said at the meeting in response to one commenter. He noted the cuts would reduce transportation options, create “more congestion on the roads” and have some “detrimental impact on air quality.”
The MBTA’s full plan can be viewed at mbta.com. It is accepting comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or Fare Proposal, 10 Park Plaza, Suite 3910, Boston, MA 02116.