BOSTON — MBTA officials absorbed withering attacks Monday on their proposals to hike fares up to 43 percent and slash dozens of bus routes, commuter rail hours, weekend E Line service and ferry service.
A familiar refrain — that the elimination of services would strand people in their homes, shatter a fragile economy and worsen pollution — was amplified during a hearing on the proposed fare hikes and service cuts that drew dozens of boisterous opponents to the state Transportation Building in downtown Boston.
“Shame on you, Gov. [Deval] Patrick. And I say shame on you [Boston] Mayor Thomas Menino,” said one rider.
Eliminating weekend and late-night commuter rail service, a component of one of the proposals, would prohibit visitors from the South Shore and central Massachusetts from attending Boston sports games, some of the critics argued. Others drew on the language of Occupy Boston to argue that the “1 percent” had bankrupted the T by borrowing to support the Big Dig and then foisting the fiscal burden on riders.
“Efforts need to focus on having the Legislature provide alternative funding for public transportation, including serious consideration of raising the tax on gasoline,” said Doug Johnson, an opponent of raising fares, drawing loud applause.
There appears little support on Beacon Hill for a funding alternative to the fare hikes and service cuts.
The MBTA faces a $161 million budget gap in the budget year that begins July 1. T officials have argued that they’ve already cut jobs, restrained employee benefits, maximized advertising revenue and eliminated inefficiencies, leaving fare hikes and service cuts as their only levers left to pull. Soaring energy costs, flatter-than-expected sales taxes in recent years, and surging costs to provide transportation options to disabled riders, they contend, have far outpaced the T’s revenue supply.
To address the shortfall, MBTA officials have offered two proposals – one that would raise fares by 43 percent and impose moderate service cuts, and another that would raise fares by 35 percent but demand more drastic reductions in service across the system, which serves 175 Massachusetts communities.
As at its previous hearings, the T found little sympathy from riders, who lined up and angrily denounced the proposals as skewed against the poor, ill-conceived, and likely to be accompanied by unintended consequences.
An aide to Rep. Gloria Fox testified on behalf of the Boston Democrat, ripping the MBTA’s proposals.
“We have the most vulnerable communities under attack in these scenarios,” the aide said.
A rider from the South Shore argued that the T had wasted money on underused parking lots, and he held up a picture of a sparsely used facility.
“A good pilot could land a plane in this parking lot,” he said.
Once the T completes its public hearings in early March, officials will present a final proposal to the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The board is required to approve the MBTA’s budget by mid-April.
Prior to the hearing, about 100 opponents of the fare hikes and service cuts gathered outside the transportation building and rallied against the T’s proposal, chanting slogans like “Don’t leave riders in a rut; no fare increases, no service cuts.” The rally packed an alleyway outside the Boylston Street entrance to the building.
David Snieckus, a regular visitor to Beacon Hill to advocate for a state-owned bank, said his proposal would solve the MBTA’s budget woes.
“Instead of going to the people for a little bit of money, a fare increase, go to the state of Massachusetts, which gave the MBTA the debt,” he said.
Another rider imitated Rachel Kaprielian, registrar of motor vehicles, reciting a regular PA system announcement in which she invites RMV customers to conduct business online. He said the T’s electronic announcements are unnecessary and wasteful.