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MBTA riders sounded off Monday night at a hearing in Lynn on proposed MBTA fare hikes.
Sen. Thomas McGee and Rep. Brendan Crighton, both Lynn Democrats, called for lower fare hikes, while Sen. Joan Lovely, a Salem Democrat, asked officials to look into what she said is deficient fare collection on the commuter rail.
"Please put it on me and folks that are professionals, that are able to pay more," said Lynn City Council President Dan Cahill, a State House lobbyist. In keeping with Crighton and McGee, Cahill advocated for a 5 percent fare increase — less than the 6.7 percent and 9.7 percent proposals on the table — and called the more expensive increase a "non-starter."
"It's just another tax on the poor," said Pamela Bush Miles, of the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, who said she represents riders on the Fairmount Line through Boston. Noting the rising cost of housing, Bush Miles said, "We just want the fares to stay at a level that people can afford because poor people cannot afford to dig money out of any more pockets to try and pay these higher fares."
A Dorchester resident, Bush Miles critiqued the location of the meeting, walking distance from some commuter bus routes but more than two miles from the city's commuter rail stop.
"It took me over an hour to get here from Boston and I couldn't take the MBTA so I had to drive," Bush Miles said.
Near the end of the hearing at Breed Middle School, Lynn businessman Rick Wood said he hardly uses the service and wants it to better sustain itself.
"I think that the transit system should pay for itself, so I'm not opposed to the increase," said Wood. He said, "They just keep taxing the citizens more and more and more."
Monday was the first hearing on proposals aimed at securing another $33.2 million to $49.4 million from riders throughout the system. State taxpayers kick in about $1.2 billion to the authority's roughly $2 billion budget and the fare proposals are part of the agency's attempt to close what had been forecast as a $242 million budget deficit in fiscal 2017.
"If you want to raise the rates, show us something in return, that we can get to work on time," said Lynn resident Judy Bower, who said she commutes into Boston on the commuter rail and her phone is filled with alerts about train delays.
The commuter rail schedule changes — aimed at streamlining the system to reduce "cascading delays" — would add some stops in Lynn, while removing a 6:53 a.m. inbound train making a stop in the city.
James Smith, a State House lobbyist, said the site where the meeting was held would have been a highway were it not for local activists, and he criticized the fare structure on the commuter rail, which he said charges Lynn riders more than riders from Winchester — though they are a similar distance from North Station.
Smith said roads receive taxpayer subsidies, too, but "nobody looks at the public road system as also having a deficit," and he said raising fares "will inevitably lead to more people driving more miles" and more greenhouse gas emissions.
Linda Bruce, of Marblehead, said riders are "getting squeezed" by fares and not seeing improvements in service.
"Nothing changes. Another few years, they're going to come back and say they need some more money," Bruce said.
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