BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts’ transit agency has approved service cuts to the Boston area’s public transportation system.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Fiscal Management and Control Board voted to approve the cuts Monday by a 3-2 vote. The service reductions were proposed in the wake of plummeting ridership as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The cuts will eliminate weekend commuter rail services on seven lines, suspend 20 bus routes, and reduce ferry services and bus frequency.
They will also reduce subway service by 20% on the Green, Red, and Orange lines and by up to 5% on the Blue Line, which has shown higher ridership levels during the pandemic than other lines.
Most of the changes are expected to take effect between January and March.
The new plan drops an earlier recommendation to end bus and subway service after midnight.
The board last week deferred the discussion and vote.
General Manager Steven Poftak requested the delay due to recent developments, including federal approval and rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine and another possible round of federal stimulus to help states with the pandemic.
He said the agency should continue to work with labor unions and other groups to find ways to reduce costs while preserving essential services.
Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, public transportation advocates and other leaders in communities served by the transit agency had called on the MBTA not to move forward with the proposal.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has defended the agency’s reduction plan, saying spending additional money on buses and trains with few riders makes no sense.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley joined other elected officials in opposing service cuts.
“To deny community access to consistent, affordable and accessible transit services, in the midst of this crisis, will be nothing but catastrophic, and would contribute to the public health crisis, while we are in the middle of a second surge, further destabilizing families,” Pressley said at a press conference Monday before the vote.
Pressley also joined the state’s entire all-Democratic congressional delegation in a letter calling for a further explanation of the cuts and a commitment to restore any cuts as soon as possible.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we worry that the proposed cuts will disproportionately impact riders from underserved communities. These riders likely have no other method of transportation and rely on MBTA services and expanded hours of service for their essential travel needs,” the lawmakers wrote, led by Democratic U.S. Katherine Clark.
Poftak acknowledged that any predictions about when ridership may return close to pre-pandemic levels is uncertain.
“We will have a lot more information in February and March than we do right now,” Poftak told reporters Monday.