It came as a surprise to no one that regularly drives in Boston that last month our city was chosen as having the worst rush-hour traffic. Not only does our city suffer from streets that are little more than evolved cow paths, but the sheer number of cars on the road leads to traffic congestion that seems slower than walking. Often when traveling around the city it can be faster and more economical to take the MBTA, leaving one’s car at the outskirts of the city and skipping the road rage of driving in Boston.
Which is why a recent fare hike by the MBTA strikes such a blow to the passengers of public transportation. With this fare hike, an expected 1.3% of T riders will stop riding the subways. City Councilor Michelle Wu accurately points out that this change will most affect those residents who already struggle to afford the T. But anyone who drives should also pay attention, as several environmental groups have pointed out that these fair hikes will also push some T riders back into cars, or towards rideshare options like Uber and Lyft. In addition to the impact on emissions as more gas guzzling vehicles return to the road, the increase in cars would surely impact traffic. Rather than take a more expensive MBTA ride, drivers will gamble on finding parking or resort to an Uber.
When Councilor Wu spoke at the hearing held to discuss the fare increase, she explained that the MBTA should be working towards free public transit. Just under one hundred cities around the globe have invested in their public transportation to make this feasible. The results could hugely beneficial in several ways. For many low income residents taking the T is an economic decision, with each trip carefully calculated into their budget. A free public transit would allow residents to find jobs outside of their neighborhoods, and greater freedom to use city-wide services and amenities. From an environmental standpoint free public transit would incentivize using the subway and bus over driving which would decrease our carbon emissions. Finally, anyone that would still need to drive into and around the city would see a decrease in traffic as more people chose to take the T over driving or ordering expensive ride share options.
Some people will oppose free public transit because they think that the MBTA should solely be supported by fares, but in fact the fares pay for barely twenty percent of the MBTA’s budget. We all benefit from the use of public transit, thanks to the cleaner air, less traffic and more economically prosperous city that it affords. It’s time to have the whole public shoulder the expenses of the MBTA — both riders and non. In that way, we’ll see a growth in public transit ridership and the benefits that brings. And so anyone who takes the T, drives around greater Boston, or breathes our air should support a free public transportation system.