The proposed MBTA service cuts and fare hikes would have a severe impact on the area residents – that’s the MBTA officials heard at a public hearing on the issue last night in Waltham.
More than 100 people turned out for the hearing held by the MBTA at the Arthur Clark Government Center to discuss the two proposals the MBTA has made to close its $161 million budget for the next fiscal year.
Under the two proposed scenarios, . The MBTA will make its final recommendations on any changes in March, and by April 15, the MBTA Board of Director will make its final decision. Changes would take affect in July.
Despite the proposals, MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis, who attended the meeting, said neither proposal would implemented in their current forms. The MBTA, he said, is searching for other ways to close the budget gap, including one-time revenues. The MBTA, however, needs a long-term transportation finance plan, he said.
The reason for the MBTA’s financial situation, Davis said, is the T’s rising costs in fuel and labor.
WAYS TO HELP THE MBTA
The state could dip into its rainy day fund among other ways things to close the budget gap, according to the Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Devaney, of Watertown. Also, she said other agencies could take on the Big Dig debt he MBTA received when the lawmakers revamped the transportation agencies several years ago. Also, cities could pool their snow and ice removal money not used this winter to help the MBTA, she said.
“There are a lot of solutions to look into,” Devaney said.
Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy suggested the MBTA become more efficient to save money before asking for service cuts or fare hikes.
The MBTA could also add surcharges for Boston Bruins or Boston Celtics games paid for by the teams, Waltam City Councilor Gary Marchese suggested. Also, all current expansion project could be halted until the debt situation improves, he said.
“It’s a shame we have gotten to this point. The MBTA should be ashamed of themselves for putting us in this position,” Marchese said.
Other speakers suggested increases in the gas tax and reversing the MBTA's ban on allowing alcohol advertising on its systems. Davis, in response to the alcohol issue, said he does not think it is appropriate for the T to promote alcohol. He said the MBTA raised $1.2 million in revenue the last time it allowed alcohol advertising, and later replaced that money with other advertising.
“We believe we need to provide an appropriate environment for our youth to travel … we don’t necessarily think they should be exposed to alcohol advertising,” Davis said.
LONG TERM FUNDING SOLUTION/COSTS
Many of the speakers suggested a long-term MBTA funding plan be created to avoid future budget gaps and help it climb out of its $5.2 billion debt, something Davis acknowledged. Currently, the MBTA is funded by several sources, including a small portion of the sales tax, fares, subsidies from communities that use the MBTA, and parking fees. (More information on the MBTA’s finances.)
The T’s operation costs often don’t cover the cost of a single ride. For example, the actual cost of a ride on the comment is typically $7.58, but riders only pay on average $3.60, according to a presentation given during the hearing.
IMPACT ON 70A BUS
McCarthy strongly advocated against the cuts, citing several impacts it could have on the city. Cutting the 70A bus, the only route that services North Waltham, would hinder many from getting to and from work.
“Cutting these basic services … would have a detrimental impact on our day to day routines,” McCarthy said.
For others, fare hikes would be a tough financial pill to swallow. Jane Binkerd, of North Waltham, said she would have difficulty affording rate hikes after recently rejoining the workforce.
“I certainly cannot afford a one passenger car,” Binkerd said.
Service cuts would also greatly impact students, according to Brandeis University Student President Herbie Rosen. Any cuts, he said, would hinder students from getting to and from their jobs and internships.
“By compromising that, you are compromising our education,” Rosen said.
CONCERNS OF NEEDY RESIDENTS
Cuts would also hurt the efforts of prisoners trying to re-enter society when they are released from jail, according to Frank Afflitto, of the Community Day Center Of Waltham. The center assists homeless people and former prisoners.
“If you want people to leave incarceration … they need to be able to find a job. They need to be able to get to that job,’ Afflitto said.
Disabled individuals would also feel the burden of the cuts, according to Victoria Buckley of the Lexington Commission on Disability. Buckley said she opposed the rate increase to THE RIDE program, which provides transportation to disabled customers.
“We can’t afford the human cost of eliminating service,” Buckley said.
For others, the proposals would threaten their independence.
"I use the MBTA. I do not drive. I need public transportation to maintain my independence. It would be a hardship if the MBTA stops the bus I ride. I cannot afford for the price to go higher. Please do not cut the routes or increase the price," said Adam Maher, a member of the Board of Directors for GWarc, a Waltham organzation that assists people with developmental disabilities.
IMPACTS ON DEVELOPMENT
Waltham real estate could also become less attractive to potential buyers. Sarah Hankins, a former candidate for the Waltham City Council and Lakeview neighborhood resident, said the cuts could make her neighborhood a less attractive place to buy a home.
“I have a concern as a homeowner that the area would not be as desirable,” Hankins said.
Service cuts would also prevent Waltham from growing the city in a way that encourages public transportation, known as smart growth, according to City Councilor Robert Logan.
“How do you do smart growth if you don’t have public transportation?” said Logan, who uses to the MBTA to get to and from work every day.