(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
Youths, senior citizens, and others who depend on the MBTA began a 24-hour vigil at the State House today, with more protesters scheduled to arrive before an anticipated Wednesday vote on fare hikes and service cuts.
Scheduled to last from 11 a.m. Tuesday to 11 a.m. Wednesday, with teach-ins and speak-outs throughout Tuesday afternoon, the vigil was planned to attract the attention of Governor Deval Patrick, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray.
Activists hope leaders will intervene before the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation votes Wednesday on a plan that would raise MBTA fares an average of 23 percent and reduce some services. The plan was presented last week after tremendous public outcry against two earlier proposals that would have raised fares by either 35 or 43 percent and made more dramatic service cuts.
Instead, the protestors are calling on the state to fill the T’s $91 million budget gap and buy enough time for major transportation reform to make its way through the legislature.
“Failed Forward Funding legislation and Big Dig debt have bankrupted the T and should not be allowed to destroy the opportunities and mobility of transit-dependent youth, seniors and disabled riders in the Boston area,” said a statement from the protest’s organizers, which include the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition, Massachusetts Senior Action Council, and the T Riders Union of Alternatives for Community & Environment.
The groups specifically ask that the state create an affordable Youth Pass for those aged 12 – 21 and halt fare increases for The Ride, which provides door-to-door transportation for the elderly and disabled.
The protest’s numbers are scheduled to swell on Wednesday afternoon, when activists from Occupy Boston and Occupy MBTA join with others representing movements for public transportation, environmental protections, and organized labor for a day of action on Beacon Hill.
Those protesters plan to arrive at 3 p.m. Wednesday for a hearing inside the State House, rally outside the building at 5 p.m., and hold a ceremony in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. at 8 p.m.
King was slain on April 4, 1968, 44 years ago Wednesday.
“A good public transportation system works to reduce the effects of economic inequality by providing affordable access to work, school, and medical care,” said Ariel Oshinsky, an organizer for Occupy Boston, in a statement released by the group. “But the MBTA is attempting to do the opposite by balancing its books on the backs of those who can afford it the least. In the MBTA’s current proposal, four of the five biggest fare increases will fall on seniors and riders with disabilities, and communities that are already marginalized will be further isolated by the fare hikes and service cuts.”
The protest by Occupy Boston and Occupy MBTA is planned as one of more than 25 pro-transit protests in cities across the country on April 4 as part of a National Day of Action for Public Transportation, organized by dozens of chapters of the loosely affiliated Occupy Wall Street movement. Other cities where protests are planned include Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.