Hundreds protest T cuts

January 20, 2012
By

A parade of 75 speakers blasted the MBTA’s proposed fare hike and service cuts at a Roxbury Community College meeting last night.

At least 250 people attended, including local elected officials and many Mission Hill residents, students and employees. 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 the Mission Hill LINK bus, among other slashings. Also in attendance were many transportation officials, including MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis and state transportation chief Richard Davey.

Attention quickly focused on the MBTA’s $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.

Pat Flaherty of Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services expressed “strong opposition” to the cuts, saying they would negatively impact local business and seniors.

Kay Gallagher, who operates the volunteer-run and MBTA-funded LINK bus, said that service is “vital to the neigborhood.” The small bus operates on Parker Hill’s steep and winding streets where big MBTA buses cannot go, serving an average of 85 riders a day.

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. The T is partly funded by the state sales tax, but that revenue is much lower than projected.

“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, pointing out that a lot of it is Big Dig highway debt that got transferred to the MBTA as a budgeting trick.

Service cuts are not abstract issues for two local elected officials who don’t have cars: state Rep. Gloria Fox and City Councilor Tito Jackson.

“We do not believe that the poor should pay more,” said Fox, calling for an MBTA audit.

Jackson 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, a Mission Hill resident, called the proposed local cuts “pennywise 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 such officials as Arthur Mombourquette of Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Northeastern University student government president Michael Sabo; and Sandy Pascal of 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 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 fareproposal@mbta.com or Fare Proposal, 10 Park Plaza, Suite 3910, Boston, MA 02116.

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