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Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone added their voices to a chorus urging the MBTA to walk back planned service cuts, arguing that the damage wrought will far outweigh the savings as the T grapples with a massive budget deficit created by declining ridership.
Both Walsh and Curtatone said Monday that T officials should rethink intentions to trim transit service and stay away from potential fare increases down the line. Cuts will disproportionately affect low-income and nonwhite riders, many of whom rely on transit to get to and from front-line jobs essential to the region's pandemic response, they said.
Walsh told the MBTA's oversight board it should focus instead on outside funding, suggesting that Boston and the T partner with other cities that feature major — and financially distressed — transit agencies to push for federal relief.
"Reducing service levels in the most transit dependent communities just as we are trying to get our businesses reopened and get our economy moving again will undermine our progress," Walsh said in pre-recorded testimony, adding that public transit is "critical" to the state's economic recovery.
The T's Fiscal and Management Control Board is preparing to decide in December on a major package of service cuts, potentially totaling as much as $255 million, to help close a fiscal year 2022 budget gap that could surpass half a billion dollars.
Ridership across the system — and, with it, fare revenue — has cratered during the pandemic, standing at only about 25% of prior averages on the subway and 40% on buses in late September.
The potential cuts, Curtatone warned, could "squander" the progress Massachusetts has made in getting the virus under control and recovering from a national recession.
"Essential services eliminated in 2021 will be harder to restore in 2022 than many stakeholders realize, and I'm worried that austerity budgeting at the T will divide us at a moment that requires unity," he said.
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