Put an end to cuts at the MBTA

Support riders with income-based fares

LAST FALL, when the MBTA announced it was planning deep cuts to bus, train, ferry ,and commuter rail service, the opposition was swift and virtually unanimous Riders, workers, elected officials, and employers raised the alarm that T cuts would make it harder for essential workers to get to their jobs, worsen unemployment, disproportionately impact low-income people and communities of color, and take a deep and unnecessary toll on our region’s economic future. Unlikely allies joined in the insistence that T service is simply too important to cut. But the calls to stop cuts and make the T more affordable have not moved the Baker/Polito administration and the T executives under their authority.

Riders, workers, and transit advocates were hoping for good news in the new year, especially given the passage of the most recent federal stimulus. That bill, which will provide up to $300 million to the MBTA, is primarily designed to support transit authorities’ operations and payroll. Accordingly, many had hoped the MBTA would use the money to roll back the job and service cuts approved by the Fiscal and Management Control Board in December over vociferous opposition.

Instead, General Manager Steve Poftak announced the MBTA would spend less than 10 percen% of “net revenues” from the stimulus to restore service cuts, putting the bulk toward capital projects, while hoarding tens of millions for the next fiscal year. The MBTA’s decision seemed to fly in the face not only of Congressional intent, but the clear opposition from the T’s ridership, employers, and others who know that cuts now are likely to depress ridership for years, with dire economic, environmental, and human consequences.

The Baker/Polito administration also dashed hopes that Beacon Hill would advance transportation equity. The Massachusetts Legislature had, in the waning hours of the last session, directed the T to move forward with an affordability program to support low-income riders with means-tested fares, and opened the way for regional transit authorities to do the same. The discounted fare they included in the Transportation Bond Bill would have helped riders, including those essential workers who, despite the importance of their work, often are not paid enough to make ends meet.

The Legislature funded the low-income fare with a 20-cent fee on Uber and Lyft rides within the MBTA core area, which could raise an estimated $6.6 million even during the pandemic. Baker claimed he vetoed the measure because more study and a source of replacement revenue were needed before moving forward on low-income fares—but he ignored the study the MBTA has already done and had already vetoed the Legislature’s proposed source of funding.

The Baker/Polito administration continued to thumb its nose at the Massachusetts Legislature’s transit priorities. First, the governor pocket vetoed a bill that amended the FY21 Budget to ensure that any new state and federal revenues at the MBTA went to offsetting cuts. This bill would have added back language vetoed by Baker in December—but the governor’s office ignored the clear message from the Legislature and killed the bill by neglecting to sign it. In its budget released Wednesday, the administration level-funded operating assistance for the T, continuing to ignore the urgent need for new revenues.

It is clear the politics of transit in Massachusetts—like so much in our nation today–are extremely polarized. In this case, the poles are dramatically lopsided.  On one side stand essential workers and the communities of color and low-income communities who depend on transit the most.  With them are the majority of Commonwealth residents, the state Legislature, and our federal delegation,  along with those employers that recognize the dire impact cuts will take on our economy.

Meet the Author

Katie Murphy

President, Massachusetts Nurses Association
Meet the Author

Karen Y. Chen

Executive director, Chinese Progressive Association
On the other side stand Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and the transportation officials under their authority. The administration is outnumbered thousands-fold, but that has not stopped it from pursuing an anti-democratic transit agenda that will benefit no one but corporations hoping to profit from the crisis in public transit, along with their enablers and beneficiaries. It is not too late to put an end to cuts at the MBTA and support the riders who need it most. In the coming year, we hope Baker and Polito will change direction and pursue a new route to transit justice and democracy.

Katie Murphy is the president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, representing more than 23,000 members working in 85 health care facilities. Karen Chen is the executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, a grassroots community organization representing and serving working-class Chinese American immigrants across Greater Boston.