MBTA Gets Earful Over Proposed Fare Hikes, Service Cuts

NEWTON, Mass. — MBTA officials got an earful Tuesday night at hearings in Worcester and Newton on plans for fare increases and service cuts. These were the first of more than 20 scheduled public meetings on the T’s plans to tackle a $161 million budget deficit.

WBUR’s Curt Nickisch was at the hearing in Newton and joined Morning Edition Wednesday.

Deborah Becker: Curt, who showed up Tuesday night and what did they have to say?

Curt Nickisch: Well, about 300 in Newton, they packed a room at the Newton City Hall, and about 100 people packed a room at the Worcester Public Library and they were not fans — shock, I know — they were not fans of paying more for less service.

One elderly woman said she and her husband bought their Newton house based on how close the bus stop was, and now they were going to lose that bus route, they were afraid. There was a visually impaired woman there with her guide dog saying it was now going to cost hundreds of percent more for her to take the T’s paratransit service, The RIDE. There were even some seventh-graders who bemoaned they’d have to walk two miles to and from school with 20-pound backpacks.

The T has put two different plans on the table. One would mean a bigger fare increase — the average T rider would pay about 43 percent more. The other would boost fares an average of 35 percent but would cut more service: no commuter rail late at night or on weekends, fewer bus routes. And under both of these plans, ferry service would be eliminated altogether. So what would you say was the bigger complaint, paying more or having less?

Well, at least at the Newton hearing, many people said they’d rather pay more money to help the T balance its budget. And they’d rather not do with less frequent bus service or fewer routes. Here’s what one attendee, Rick Morin, told me:

The fare increase, they need to do. They should have done a while ago. It’s get-on-with-it time. But I’m not convinced that they need to do the service cuts and the fare increases all at the same time.

And of course, just from an economic argument it makes total sense. T ridership is up. Demand for the T is up so people expect to pay more. What doesn’t make sense to these riders is to cut supply at this time of higher demand, to eliminate bus routes, to eliminate evening or weekend commuter rail service. That was heard over and over.

Do you think that folks felt like T officials were listening to them?

Well, T folks were there, there was a stenographer taking everything down, but I definitely got the sense that everybody there was at least trying very hard to be listened to. I mean, a lot of people who showed up had already written out what they were going to say, they had extra copies to pass around. For some it was almost a chance to scold the T, even if the T wasn’t listening, as much as it was to complain about these fare hikes and service cuts proposals.

How so?

There was a big sense of mistrust, I think, there of the MBTA’s competence. You know one of the reasons that the T gave for cutting some bus routes in Newton, for instance, was the amount of fares paid on those routes and the number of people riding it. Well, one parent got up and she said her kids ride that bus to school, and she really took the T to task for its methodology. She said that when the bus picks up her kid and a few dozen schoolkids at once the driver often waves them on without making them pay. And now the fact that the driver doesn’t make those kids pay is being factored into why that bus line shouldn’t exist anymore. And that story from Sonja Loar really resonated with people in the auditorium:

I implore the MBTA to take a hard inward look on other cost-cutting measures, before severing this vital service to citizens who need it the most.

T officials said they’ve done everything they can, but now they have to turn to service cuts and fare hikes. And a fair number of people just didn’t believe that. And we’ll see if we hear more of that from the next 20 hearings, from Hingham where the ferry service would be cut, from Jamaica Plain, which would lose, under one scenario, Green “E” line service on weekends, and from communities all around Boston.

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  • Anonymous

    The MBTA needs to be investigated for mismanagement. Every mayor of a every city in this state should be demanding and explanation of why they can’t seem to manage it.
    I would also like to add any line that leads to the medical areas can’t or should not be cut on weekends as this is how a huge portion of the hospital staff commute, the Longwood area alone employs something in the range of 30 thousand people and they work weekends.

    The governor needs to be on top of this NOW.

    • Catherine

      It was the governor who caused this problem. They shifted the $3.3 million dollar debt from the Big Dig onto the MBTA, and promised them money that they have not followed up on (increased sales tax revenue). This is NOT entirely the fault of the MBTA management. 

  • X-Ray

    When I have to go into Boston, I often see busses with 2 or 3 passengers and
    trains running with 10 aboard. These are obviously not paying their way and
    causing a lot of pollution and energy waste, not the savings associated with
    public rapid transit. This situation is a direct result of the lack of load
    management on the part of the MBTA administration.

  • Miguel

    I heard rumors that sometime this November close the Government Center T stop for overhaul believe  approximately  a year & half. The Green Line B & D trolley ends at Government Center. Do you think do they will go all the way to Lechmere or North Station? Now, fare hikes & service cuts like the E Line will close on weekends & holidays. Plus, the Commuter Rail closing on weekends that will be bad for passenger who goes to Red Sox on Yawkey Way station, The New England Patriots on Foxboro station, The Bruins & Celtics on North Station come on do something that’s not right to close weekends & after 10pm on weeknights.  I also heard rumors that will effect on July 1 that’s 3 days before Independence day people have to watch the fireworks over the Charles to catch the late night Commuter Rail train. Let’s have a Commuter Rail for 24/7. What do you says!

  • Tcunningham47

    Ferry service is a foolish idea and a waste of money, not to mention how dangerous it is to have these ferries running in the dead of winter!  How many lives would be loss is a captain on the Hingham or Hull boat made an error in judgement anywhere near what the idiot in Italy did?  How long do you think a person could survive if they are forced into the icy harbor waters in the middle of the winter?  There is a reason that people in New England take their boats out of the water in the winter months.  It should not take a brain surgeon to figure out that the people of Hull and Hingham would be safer if they take the buses and trains like the rest of us!

    • nytbookreview

      The ferry service is the most reliable service across all forms of public transportation.  It runs on time, ALL the time, even in winter. The employees offer the best customer service out of all others (subway, rail, bus). I believe car accidents with loss of life and injury are far more dangerous in the winter.  The boat schedule offers convenient times to arrive at work  and leave, whether it is dads/mums who have to get home for little league baseball or nurses who work 7am-7.30 pm shifts. Their performance, quality and flexibility in schedule is what public transportation means.  Massachusetts and Boston  is alreadyfar  behind  most major american cities and far behind Ireland, Northern Ireland, Paris, Barcelona or Melbourne Au.

      • Tcunningham47

        Seriously……….  “Massachusetts and Boston  is already far  behind  most major american
        cities and far behind Ireland, Northern Ireland, Paris, Barcelona or
        Melbourne Au.”     Dude, the MBTA is out of money.  Service is being cut in Dorchester, Mattapan, Roxberry etc.  Those people tend to be the poorest of the poor and they need these services for basic survival. Couple that with the fact that  Ferry service in the Winter makes no sense.  Not only is it not cost effective in the summer but in the winter is can be down right dangerous!  If one of those boats capsizes on a dark night, in rough seas and inclement weather, many lives could be loss in a very short amount of time.  If you want to go on vacation and take a ferry cruise, feel free to do so.  But having the MBTA subsidize this service is silly.  Throw in the fact that the Boat Company has such a lucrative contract that the don’t even bother to collect the fare from half the passengers and you begin to see why the MBTA is in debt

      • Anonymous

        Oh Please………take a bus or a train like the rest of do.   BTW I am sure that the employees offer the best customer service to all of you white collar workers as you leave you corner office in the “financial” district”  Maybe you want the people in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxberry to start thumbing to work

    • Sgray05

      “take the buses and trains like the rest of us!”  Too bad the MBTA is reducing and eliminating those services too. 

  • Baron1701

    I cant afford the fees as they are. Back to the minivan for the commute.

  • Anonymous

    Below is a direct quote from 5 Charlestown residents who own Condo’s at
    the Navy Yard. These people truly believe that the MBTA should spend 3.2
    Million a year so they can feel the wind in their hair and the sun on
    their face.  Does not seem to matter to them that there are people in
    poorer sections of the city who are fighting just to climb on a bus or
    train because they have no other means of transportation
      ” On no
    other form of public transportation can residents know that they will
    have a pleasant, consistent commute. And on no other form of public
    transportation can commuters sit outside, with the wind in their hair
    and the sun on their faces, forming a sense of community and friendship
    with fellow riders while also having the opportunity to reflect happily
    on their choice to live in a community on its way to becoming
    revitalized and redeveloped. But this is all about to change if either
    of the MBTA’s recent proposals, both of which would eliminate all MBTA
    ferry boat service, is adopted.”

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