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Occupy Boston takes on MBTA fare hikes, service cuts

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  January 18, 2012 02:59 PM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Proposed fair increases on the MBTA could have commuters paying 43 percent more for each ride.

As public opposition mounts for service cuts and fare hikes proposed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Occupy Boston activists have turned their attention to the issue.

Working largely through social media, an Occupy MBTA group has begun an effort to organize opposition to the MBTA’s proposals. At 3 p.m. Wednesday, the group’s Twitter account had 176 followers.

The MBTA’s proposals present options many T riders find unacceptable. In one, fares would increase by 35 percent overall, setting the price of a train ride at $2.25, while 101 weekday bus routes would be cut. Fares would increase from $2 to $3 for most trips on The Ride, the MBTA’s door-to-door transit service for the disabled, and to $5 for trips outside the T’s fixed-route service area.

The other scenario would cut only 23 weekday bus routes but would increase fares by 43 percent overall, to $2.40 for a train ride. Fares would go from $2 to $4.50 for trips on The Ride inside the fixed-route service area and at $12 for trips outside the area.

Both plans would eliminate ferry service and shut down the commuter rail on weekends and after 10 p.m. on weekdays.

Ariadne Ross, a member of Occupy MBTA, said the group began taking shape online within an hour of the proposals being announced. A Lynn resident who takes public transportation into Boston each day for her job as a database administrator, Ross said the proposed cuts would affect her personally, as well as other members of the Occupy Movement.

But those most affected would be those at “the lowest income levels of the 99 percent,” she said. Rather than taking away service or charging higher fares to those citizens, Ross would like to see massive changes at the MBTA and the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad.

“The MBTA and the MBCR have been horribly managed, in my opinion, for certainly the 10 years I’ve been in Boston,” she said. “I would start at the top and work down, and make a real effort to radically overhaul the system.”

She wants state or federal intervention to solve the budget crisis. “As a society, we have to decide sometimes that some things matter enough that we’re willing to do what it takes to keep these essential services up and running,” she said.

Occupy MBTA currently has about 30 – 35 members, according to another activist, who uses the name Tyson Hawk to protect his identity and his day job. Hawk, 29, has lived for about a year in a suburb southwest of Boston but lived in the city for the previous decade.

He said the group is working to engage and inform others through social media and to encourage them to attend the MBTA’s series of public meetings and make their voices heard. It’s also partnering with established organizations such as the T Riders Union and similar groups within the local Occupy Movement such as Occupy the T, a group that emerged from Occupy Somerville.

“I think the choice of service cuts or fare hikes is a Hobbesian choice,” Hawk said, referring to a situation where a person must select one option or nothing at all. “Neither choice is the answer.”

Hawk said the proposals the MBTA has presented would “balance the books on the backs of working people” and the real problem is that up to 90 percent of each customer fare goes toward servicing the authority’s debts rather than paying down the principal or improving service. Instead of the proposals on the table, he’d like to see a restructuring or forgiveness of the MBTA’s debt.

Hawk wants to know whether any banks holding debt from the MBTA were themselves bailed out by the federal government under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. If so, he said, they should repay the favor by helping the T out of its own debt crisis.

He feels the same way about Big Dig construction companies who profited from work associated with that massive public works project. Because the state legislature passed along some Big Dig-related debt to the MBTA in 2000, Hawk said, those construction companies responsible for cost overruns and failing systems should also help foot that bill.

Much of what Ross and Hawk said was echoed by a member of the Occupy the T group within Occupy Somerville who uses the name Jay Jubilee, a reference to the biblical meaning of “jubilee” as a time of sins forgiven and debts pardoned. He expects the two groups will eventually merge into one and said that already they are coordinating their efforts.

Jubilee said the Somerville group began forming with a meeting on Jan. 10, one week after the MBTA’s announcement, and was still taking shape. “At this point … it’s a call as much as it is a formal organization,” he said. “It’s a call for people to get involved, wherever they are.”

His goal is to see public transportation become as close to free as possible. “There should be no monetary barrier to using public transit,” he said, “It’s a need, whether to get to work, to get home, to get to school, and … it should be treated as a right of the city, a right of city residents.”

He believes ready access to public transit isn’t just an economic issue but one of social justice and environmental policy. Fewer people taking public transit means more people driving and polluting the air with car exhaust, he said, and even projections released by the MBTA show that decreased ridership is bad for the environment.

Finding a solution, he said, is just a matter of priorities, and he hopes grassroots action can help shift the discussion.

“There’s trillions of dollars for war,” he said. “Why can’t we have a few millions for something people actually need?”

Public meetings continue through March 6, with one tonight at the Chelsea Public Library and another Thursday night at Roxbury Community College. For a full list of meetings and for documents explaining the proposals, visit http://mbta.com/about_the_mbta/?id=23567.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @DowntownUpdate.

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