Abhorrent proposal to close the MBTA’s budget gap

By | January 5, 2012
To: Kevin.Honan@mahouse.gov, William.Brownsberger@mahouse.gov, mayor@cityofboston.gov, City.Council@cityofboston.gov
CC: fareproposal@mbta.com

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.


Jonathan Kamens

CC: fareproposal@mbta.com

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2 thoughts on “Abhorrent proposal to close the MBTA’s budget gap

  1. Nate

    So, I agree, mostly. Removing services is a horrible idea. Public transportation *defines* the modern city.

    You say that the MBTA doesn’t need to be profitable but then you say we should raise fares… honestly, that’s almost a worse idea.

    One of the key benefits of public transportation is increased opportunity for poor and disadvantaged families. How can you dig yourself out of poverty if you can’t get to a decent job? These people can’t just go buy a car and pay for parking. They’re not taking the bus because they don’t want to drive – they take the bus because it’s their only option.

    You may not see a lot of these people in Brighton, but I’ve seen a lot of them around Somerville, Cambridge etc. Jacking the price up would devastate their already stretched finances.

    We should be raising tolls and taxing parking lots, and subsidizing public transportation, to encourage people to use public transportation more, not making it *less* attractive via fare hikes and reduced services.

    Given the huge traffic jams I see all the time on 93 and the Pike, driving must still be pretty attractive to many people working in Boston. We should examine why that is, and fix it. Driving in to work should be a last resort that you only do if you have to, and your wallet should complain the whole way there. Public transportation should be easier, faster, and cheaper.

    1. jik Post author

      I agree with everything you said about the importance of public transportation being affordable to everyone.

      However, I think there is room for fares to go up in general without becoming unaffordable; and it’s critically important to set up a system for fares keeping pace with inflation automatically so that there doesn’t have to be a political fight every time the fares need to be raised; and there are certain routes, such as the 501, which should be “jacked up” because the people who patronize those routes can afford it and market pricing is an appropriate way to keep the other parts of the T affordable.


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