By Jascha Franklin-Hodge
Wednesday’s announcement by the MBTA that it would sustain and deepen service cuts on the rapid transit system and bus network puts the region’s transportation future in jeopardy. Federal, state, and local officials must work together to restore critical services as quickly as possible. These service cuts will overlap with the unprecedented Orange and Green Line shutdowns, compounding significant challenges for riders and the region, and raising serious equity, mobility, environmental, and economic concerns. Magnifying the impact of chronic underinvestment in infrastructure, these cuts underscore the MBTA’s continued inability to address critical systemic staffing issues.
Transit is essential to Boston and the consequences of diminished service are felt every day by riders. These cuts will ripple across our region this fall as students return to school, more workers return to the office, and the Orange Line resumes service with the expectation of major improvements. To rebuild trust in transit, we call on Secretary Buttigieg and members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation to work with the MBTA and the FTA to restore safe, reliable service to Boston and the region. We must:
• Find accelerated solutions to the rail dispatcher shortage that has resulted in substantial reduction in rail service since June. As additional dispatchers enter service, the MBTA, with support from the FTA, must prioritize restoration of peak period service levels as quickly as possible.
• Immediately address the critical shortage of bus operators which has led to dwindling service for the most loyal and transit-dependent riders. The Department of Transportation and Department of Labor must work with the MBTA, state officials, and labor unions to understand and remove the barriers to attracting this essential workforce, financial or contractual.
• Support improved MBTA communication with riders in advance of any significant future service disruptions that may be necessary to address safety deficiencies identified by the FTA.
• Provide regular progress reports to the public on staffing levels and targets, headways, and ridership impacts in order to maintain transparency and rebuild trust.
In addition to the direct impact on mobility and quality of life for the people of Metro Boston, the MBTA’s inability to provide full service will increase some of the nation’s worst congestion, further lock in unsustainable travel patterns, and make our decarbonization goals more difficult to reach. While safety must be the MBTA’s number one priority, the MBTA needs the support of every level of government to urgently implement a plan to address safety and provide robust, reliable, and equitable transit options to support commuting and mobility within the region. We stand ready and eager to partner on these needs and accelerate the return of safe, reliable service that our communities deserve.
Jascha Franklin-Hodge is Mayor Michelle Wu’s Chief of Streets, LivableStreets Alliance, A Better City, and Transit Matters.