|To:||Kevin.Honan@mahouse.gov, William.Brownsberger@mahouse.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org, City.Council@cityofboston.gov|
Dear Gov. Patrick (via Fax), Rep. Honan, Rep. Brownsberger, Mayor Menino, and members of the Boston City Council,
I am writing to you all in incensed opposition to the abhorrent plan currently under discussion to close the MBTA’s budget gap by decimating Massachusetts public transportation.
The T’s budget gap is structural, resulting from the Big Dig debt thrust upon it several years ago, coupled with sales tax revenue that was supposed to increase but flattened instead. Drastic cuts in service won’t actually solve the structural issue, they’ll merely postpone it. They are not the answer.
The idea some people seem to have that public transportation should pay for itself is simply absurd. Public transportation is an essential public service, like roads, bridges, police, fire departments, and schools. Do the Commonwealth’s roads and bridges pay for their own maintenance?
I ride the 501 express bus from my neighborhood in Brighton to and from my job downtown nearly every day. No matter what time of day I commute, the bus is full or nearly full. Eliminating this particular route will cause many T riders to start driving to work instead of taking the bus, increasing pollution, traffic, and road maintenance costs. It will also make Brighton a far less attractive and stable neighborhood and damage property values, since easy access is to downtown is a huge plus for professionals looking for a place to live.
Every one of the more than 100 other routes whose elimination is under discussion serves many people whose lives and communities would be similarly impacted by the elimination of their route. This proposal isn’t an answer; it’s a disaster.
The right way to solve the T’s budget woes is actually quite obvious:
• The Legislature should compare how much the T was projected to receive from the 20% cut of sales tax revenue vs. how much it actually received, and pay off that much of the T’s debt, including any debt servicing interest paid on it over the years, from the state’s general fund or rainy day fund.
• The T should raise its fares to make them comparable to fares charged in other cities and should raise them regularly moving forward to keep up with inflation. Some of the fares charged by the T are absurdly low. For example, I pay $89 per month to ride the 501 bus every day, whereas if I drove to work I’d pay a minimum of $265 for parking, not to mention possibly needing to buy and insure a car, as well as paying for gas and increased maintenance. I suspect the T could easily charge 50% more than it’s charging now for the 501 and other express buses and keep most of their riders. I know I’d pay it.
• Other sources of revenue, such as income or sales taxes or even state highway and bridge tolls, should be used to offset any remaining budget gap on a year-by-year basis. To make this politically feasible, the Legislature needs to change the conversation by first educating itself, and then educating the public through a massive public opinion campaign, about the fact that a good public transportation system actually saves the Commonwealth and its citizens money, creates jobs, reduces traffic, protects the environment, and reduces our country’s dependence on foreign oil.
I love living in Boston. However, the parochial mentality which so often seems to dominate how things are done around here frequently prompts me to wonder if I live in a minor town with pretensions of being a major city. Destroying our public transportation system would reinforce that image in many people’s minds. Please don’t let this happen.