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OPINION: The T needs our help to avoid service cuts and fare hikes

Posted by Alex Pearlman  January 13, 2012 05:46 PM

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mbta fair hikes service cuts.jpgBy Max Chalkin

Fares on the T are probably going up.?And you should be angry.

Don't get me wrong: You shouldn't be angry that the fares are going up; after all, the MBTA hasn't raised fares in five years. You should be angry at why the fares are going up: financial mismanagement, political infighting, and a complete inability on the part of the state government to make structural changes that will prevent service cuts and fare hikes in the future. The T needs to be completely rethought, and no one is stepping up to the plate.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s first talk about the fare hikes and service cuts. Under one scenario, fares could increase as much as 43 percent, raising the cost of a bus ride to $1.75 and the cost of a subway ride to $2.40; parking fees would also increase by as much as one-third of their current cost. And along with fare hikes, there will be service cuts: no commuter rail service on weekends and after 10 p.m., no weekend service on the Green Line E branch or Mattapan Line, and no ferry service at all.

One look at the MBTA’s books, and you'll agree: These fare hikes and service cuts are unavoidable. They've projected a $161 million budget gap for the 2013 fiscal year. In an interview, Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said that in 2012 alone, the MBTA will spend $452 million just on debt that the agency has incurred to “pay for things we've already bought or built.” That massive debt load includes $1.8 billion in lingering costs from the Big Dig and a $1 billion-per-year shortfall in funding for transportation system repairs and maintenance, according to the State House News Service.

(The same State House News Service article notes that "the T is required by law to balance its operating budget every year,” which leads one to wonder: If the T is operating at a $1 billion per year shortfall, how is it not in violation of the law?)

But this round of higher fares is only the beginning. When asked whether another fare increase could occur in just a year or two, Davey said that he “can almost guarantee it.”

Here’s the takeaway:

  • The MBTA is bleeding money.
  • There is no long-term financing plan for public transportation in Massachusetts.
  • Service cuts and fare hikes will continue until such a plan is implemented.
  • Lawmakers want to do nothing until 2013 because 2012 is an election year.

Perhaps even more infuriating is that the proposal looks like it was thrown together by a middle-schooler. Lawmakers and the MBTA, it seems, are simply not up to the challenge of dealing with this situation.  They have accepted that charging riders more and shutting down service is the only way to go. If they continue to do so, the T will soon be only a semblance of what it once was.

Go to a Meeting

Officials will hold a series of 20 public meetings to discuss the service changes with MBTA riders. Even if they're just for show -- a way for the T to diplomatically roll out fare hikes and service cuts without being accused of springing it on the public -- you should go. We should all show up.

“There are many things the public could say [at the meetings] that could calibrate how we’re raising fares and what services we’re cutting," said Davey. "We don’t have all the answers, and some of the best ideas we get are from our customers.”

So I’m speaking to you, students and 20-somethings who take the T: Go to a meeting. #OccupyTheT. Ask questions. Demand answers.

Contact public officials. Click here to raise your voice on this issue.Is the MBTA perpetually going to raise fares and cut back service as the T crumbles before their eyes?  Why is there no long-term plan? Why is the MBTA just rolling over and accepting that it will lose as much as 17 percent of its ridership? Why is this city, already so congested with traffic, effectively consenting to a spike in automobile traffic?

Let’s get the message across: We take the T to work, to school, to the doctor, and to hang out with friends. We are working hard to claw our way out of an economic slump. Without a sustainable plan, infrastructure will continue to deteriorate and the state's economy will continue to slump. And that will affect us all.

There are 11 1/2 months left in 2012, yet our government doesn’t want to look at these problems until 2013. If nothing else does, this delay should make you mad.

The MBTA could use our help. We represent the best and brightest minds in Massachusetts, and if the government can't solve these problems, maybe we can.

What do you think of the T's proposed changes?

Photo by Josh Kaufman Photography (Flickr)

About Max -- Max Chalkin is a recent graduate of Tufts University and is currently working in biotech marketing. His interests include entrepreneurship, technology, politics, food, and nightlife. He is an avid photographer, cook, and scuba diver.

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