(Johanna Kaiser, Town Correspondent)
A coalition of more than 20 community groups and organizations opposed to the MBTA's proposed fare hikes and service cuts took to the steps of the State House Monday to call on legislators to fund the T, then joined more than 200 others at a hearing focusing on the proposals.
"They're only looking at the bottom line," Pamela Bush, a community organizer for the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, told a group of about 70 protesters ranging from members of Occupy Boston, Students Against T Cuts, the T Riders' Union and other neighborhood groups.
The MBTA has released two proposals aimed at reducing its projected operating deficit of $161 million and its $5.2 billion debt, $3.6 billion of which was inherited from the state for projects, such as the Big Dig.
The proposed cuts include eliminating commuter rail service on the weekends, reducing service on various lines and buses and increasing fares and passes, some by as much as 175 percent.
Critics say these proposals disproportionately raise fares for senior citizens and the disabled while cutting service to areas that have few alternatives or receive lower service already.
"What are they going to cut next year? There will be nothing left but the skeletal remains," Bush said as protesters waved signs that read "WTF: What's the Fare?" or "See Something, Say Something" with an large weight labeled "MBTA Debt" crushing a stick figure.
Bush and others called on the legislature to forward fund the MBTA and address the Big Dig debt.
"It's time for us to make that noise and let them know that we're not going to take it," said Lee Matsueda of the T Riders Union, which plans to offer alternatives and meet with lawmakers across the state as the process continues.
"It was easy for [state lawmakers] to drop the big dig debt on the backs of the T and its riders, so they really need to consider how important of a service this is for our region and for the state as a whole," Matsueda said before leading the group in a march to the hearing chanting call-and-response cheers such as "Fare hikes, service cuts...Fight Back" and "Whose T? Our T!"
State Representatives Denise Provost of Somerville and Alice Wolf of Cambridge, both Democrats, did join the group to show their support.
At the hearing, held in the Transportation Building, many others expressed frustration with MBTA officials, shouting, "What about your salaries?" and "Then innovate!" as Joshua Robin, the director of innovation and special projects of the MBTA, attempted to give a presentation summarizing the T's financial situation.
One woman rose from the audience criticizing T officials for giving a presentation on information "we already know," while limiting the time each member of the public can speak. The woman was escorted out by security, but officials cut short the presentation and began public comment as the audience cheered and shouted in support of the woman.
Others also energetically called on the MBTA to find alternatives to specific cuts and reduce the debt.
"The T cannot balance the budget on the backs of riders. There has to be a broader policy solution that really involves addressing the revenue questions," Joan Tighe, co-coordinator of the Fairmount/Indigo Line Coalition, said after testifying. That includes separating the Big Dig from the MBTA's debt, Tighe said.
Tighe's group advocated for the reconstruction of two stations and construction of four new stations along the Fairmont Line over the past decade and equal rates on the line, whose riders now pay more than $4.
"So why did you build four new station if you're not going to have transit service there to serve the people who truly need it?" she asked in her testimony.
The hearing was the latest of the 22 planned transit agency hearings on the proposals. Click here for the dates of future meetings.