By now, most of us in the Boston metro area have heard of the alarming proposal by the MBTA to cut services and raise fares. They are currently holding public hearings in communities throughout their service zones in order to receive resident feedback. This past Wednesday I was able to attend my local public hearing in Salem. The entire space was packed out, necessitating two separate rooms for discussion.
Residents from all over the area protested how prohibitive the 35-45% fare hikes would be: commuter rail tickets from Salem to North Station would rise from $5.25 to between $7.00 & $7.50, not something most families can easily absorb. Members of local city councils and chambers of commerce also voiced how disruptive such steep prices would be to their local economies. Not surprisingly, there was also serious objection to the complete loss of commuter rail service after 10:00 pm & on the weekends, as well as several bus routes.
The MBTA officials present were not surprised to hear any of this. They’d certainly heard it at other hearings, but also surely understood these effects when they drew up “the best options for the most people,” as they put it. They seemed to take the anger well in stride, as people rightfully expressed their anger at such stark changes. The bottom line, as they communicated, remained that the budget could no longer be balanced by fixes like debt shifting and the like, and thus had to be resolved by some combination of higher fares & fewer services.
What emerged was their clear need for an additional revenue source. But that is not something they can do much to secure, other than expand advertisement space. As they pointed out, anything like a new tax would have to come from the legislature. (I know, government 101 right). But that point focused me: without an additional revenue stream coming in, the rest of budget discussions would simply be about where to shift the costs (again, fare hikes & service cuts). So when I spoke I urged them to coordinate with the appropriate legislators to get some meaningful bill going. It’s not like there is a shortage of options: a gas tax, some kind of regional finance tax, or how bout closing some corporate loopholes?
But in order for anything like that to pass, residents will have to find a way to channel their anger & concern into support of a real solution, a new revenue source. Our legislators will need to know how much we value our MBTA before they stick their necks out for new taxes. I believe I saw Beverly’s state rep Jerald Parisella at the hearing, so it’s not like lawmakers don’t know this is a huge issue for constituents. So, it’s time for us as constituents to let them know, individually and collectively.
There have already been protests, and there will continue to be hearings. So, if you’ve never really gotten involved in public issues before, this is a great time to start! This is about the accessibility of vital services we depend on as individuals, families, and communities. It’s about transit justice for the least advantaged and ecological health for all of us. It’s about preserving a public good with a myriad of public benefits. And that requires a public commitment. In the coming weeks, I will be eagerly exploring what it will look like to help make this commitment a public reality.