Monday, January 23, 2012

Rally at MBTA Public Hearing

Rally in front of the State House

I attended a rally today to protest the MBTA's plans to cut service and raise fares. This was organized by the Transit Rider's Union and Students Against T Cuts. There was a fairly diverse crowd of about 50 or so people at the rally, and several members of the media including Boston Globe online and a local TV news crew. They handed out some posters to carry and buttons to wear and led the crowd in several chants (admittedly, I had a hard time understanding some of what they were saying). This was followed by some short speeches from various organizers. A couple state representatives showed up to give their support as well. Then we headed into the Common and over to 10 Park Plaza for the 1pm public meeting.

Going to the MBTA public hearing at 10 Park Plaza
When we got there it turned out it was already quite crowded. It looked like they had anticipated a sizable group and the conference room was fairly large, but they ended up needing an overflow room. If you wanted to speak you got a number, so I picked mine up and found a seat.

First Deputy General Counsel Gerald Kelly explained that this was a Public Hearing and there would be no Q/A session as a result: it was to satisfy a particular Federal Transit Law, and all comments would simply become part of the public record to be reviewed later. He pointed out several individuals who would be conducting discussions and answering questions, outside the event. Then he introduced the first speaker, Josh Robin, Director of Innovation. I remember that I've spoken to Josh on a previous occasion, about adding the Stop ID to bus stop signs so that it was easier to use NextBus. He is also the guy behind the MBTA's twitter feed. This time, he was apparently supposed to give a PowerPoint presentation about the MBTA and its budget woes. He got a few slides in, talking about how the sales tax revenue did not meet expectations when he was interrupted by a lady up front. She protested that they were wasting time and they should move onto the public comment period, since there were so many people, and the slides weren't telling us anything new. There was a bit of an awkward moment as Josh attempted to continue giving his presentation, while the crowd sided with the lady. Eventually Gerald stepped in and opted to end the presentation and started the comment process.

One by one, people came up in order of their numbers and gave comments. There were many, some spoke too quietly, some too fast, but I attempted to record the gist of what they were saying. Here is what I heard, and I apologize for not getting people's names, it was hard to hear most of the time:
  • E-line and Mattapan HSL are serving environmental justice communities and will be cut.
  • The 39 bus has higher operating costs than the E line.
  • Several seniors with disabilities from revere, living on SS check / fixed income, will be stranded with cuts
  • A lady from The Fairmount Indigo line organization says 90,000 people live in that corridor, many transit dependent. Why cut service after building $160mil of station expansions? Also, zones make no sense - up by $4 to go to Hyde Park even though it's all within the borders of the city.
  • Handicap accessibility is important, many route cuts affect hospital service.
  • Arlmont Village will be cut off from transit.
  • People can't get around, they don't have cars.
  • Assembly Square losing almost all service, and still several years to go before subway station.
  • The T never fixed a programming bug in the CharlieCard system with regard to bus-subway-bus transfers costing double, and that will be made even worse by changes. e.g. Traveling from Somerville to Southie.
  • Dudley operations are mismanaged - buses pull in, park and leave riders out in the cold instead of leaving immediately or at least letting people board.
  • Big Dig alleviates traffic for people who drive cars, why are transit riders paying for it? Commuter Rail cuts on weekends lead to more drunken driving. Ask drivers to pay for the Big Dig.
  • Fellow was born in Boston, lived whole life here, never bought a car because of T. He asks: What about Bruins and Celtics games? Lots of people use North Station for those.
  • Cost $1.5 billion to build Old Colony CR recently. Now cutting service? Kingston has empty parking lot on Wednesday afternoon - re-examine parking policy?
  • Eastern Service Workers Association: T's debt because of Bechtel/Parsons-Brinckerhoff failures. The $2 billion price became $22 billion on Big Dig. Recover some [more] of the cost from B/PB.
  • Seniors fares cannot be raised so much (100%). Not enough E line service currently - often cannot board as it is too crowded already.
  • This is not a solution, it is another problem. If we were trying to destroy public transit, this is the way. Work with us, not against us. Marblehead is losing 3 of 4 routes.
  • Someone says their rep from Somerville has a plan. [NB: Maybe Rep. Provost?]
  • Sat/Sun E-line is packed on weekends, why cut it and replace with polluting 39 bus?
  • Natick needs CR on nights and weekends. Sports fans driving will just lead to more cars on the roads. Green line needs to stop fare evaders.
  • Unfair for Worcester, getting fare raised because of Big Dig. Meeting not listed on MassDOT calendar, was hard to get people from Worcester informed. Where is Rich Davey, why isn't he here?
  • When she heard the RIDE increases from $2 to $12 she nearly fainted.
  • Rep. Gloria Fox sent statement to be read: She cannot support this proposal to raise fares. Her district has some of the lowest subsidized, highest ridership routes but will be affected badly, and is in a disenfranchised section of Boston.
  • This proposal shuts off Weymouth from transit.
  • Legislature needs to provide funding including raising gasoline taxes, it's been 20 years. Losing $400 million a year due to lost value from inflation.
  • PowerPoint is not a good educational device. $5 billion in debt on MBTA, $3 billion in interest. $2 billion is Big Dig related. Need transportation financial plan so benefits don't just go to bankers.
  • Alienating lots of people by raising fares - lost ridership.
  • Transportation for America: these scenarios are not acceptable. Scraping it out of the hide of riders is like asking Varitek to split the uprights [NB: Boston sports reference]. We need to talk to our elected officials. There are problems across the board.
  • MassPIRG: these proposals are bad public policy. Reduction in ridership: 30% of bus riders lose out. Short term fixes won't help in the long term.
  • Millions of people shaped lives around public transit. Sympathy votes don't win bills. Need pragmatic solutions. Real lack of creativity when it comes to cuts. [Shows schedule with penciled changes] Convert Rockport expresses to locals and eliminate 3 trains without losing service. Early Sat. morning trains are packed with service industry workers. Tourists ride Rockport on the weekends to see towns on the north shore. Many late night trains have drunk Celtics fans. Snow days see increased ridership, that makes it easier to clean roads.
  • TransitOnTheLine blogger spoke about importance of transit. [See also]
  • MBTA Ridership Oversight Committee: It's asinine to build expansions and cut service.
  • Orange Line falling apart. Stop fare jumpers.
  • State can borrow cheaply. State of MA should deal with this.
  • Liveable Streets Alliance: this is a backwards plan. Boston won't attract young people. Are there any state reps in the room? [NB: Nobody answered]
  • This choice is like shooting ourselves in the head with a .38 vs a .25. We need debt forgiveness.
  • Raise taxes on income and gas to pay for Big Dig debt.
  • This plan won't work. We'll be here next year. May as well call it "Jan 3rd, MBTA Fare Increase Day."
At this point, they were trying to get as many people to speak as possible, so they asked everyone to keep it under a minute and a half. Then it was my turn to speak, and I also submitted them to the written record later on outside the conference room.
In 2007, the TFC report found that $1.8 billion dollars in MBTA debt was due to the court-ordered Big Dig mitigation projects. They formally recommended that this debt - which is the responsibility of the Commonwealth - be taken off the MBTA's books and given back to the Commonwealth where it belongs. This action alone could save up to $120 million a year in debt service costs.
The forward funding legislation in 2000 made predictions about revenue which turned out to be almost completely wrong, in addition to putting the Big Dig debt on the T. It is time to go back and fix forward funding first, before considering fare hikes and service cuts - and put the Big Dig debt back where it belongs.
I also tracked down Josh outside and asked him what he thought of the whole ordeal. He said that they must try to find some way to balance the budget within these constraints, and that these proposals would technically do the job. I asked him why they did not pursue the removal of the Big Dig debt, and he said it was out of scope for them at the T. At this point he had to leave, but I also asked if they were trying to get the public involved to do something about the Big Dig debt, but he didn't have anything to say about that except a shrug.


  1. Matthew,

    Great job chronicling this event. I find it sad that some there would choose to put their desire to be heard over decorum of the meeting. I have presided over these meetings (former councilman) and we often-times bummed public comments up as gesture of consideration. However, booing or sneering and someone for giving a presentation presentation is uncalled for. It isn't building support for one's position, that is for sure.

    However, I do hope the cuts are avoided. Seems when the economy dips, the need for public transit is as important as ever.

    1. To be fair, while it was a rude interruption, I think it was a fair point to be made. There were only two hours, and nearly a hundred people wanted to speak. I feel that people like Josh at the MBTA do have good intentions and are really trying to help. But it was a "tone-deaf" gesture to show up with a PowerPoint presentation with some inane slides and expect people to sit still through that. This isn't a board meeting, after all.

    2. P.S. These are the slides for the interrupted presentation: