Wu and other pols seek to organize T riders
Call for more taxes and more bus-only lanes
BOSTON CITY COUNCILOR Michelle Wu had a captive audience Monday morning as she tried to mobilize a group of people who spend too much time stuck on MBTA platforms and trains.
“I practically live on here,” said Carshena Berry who commutes almost the entire length of the Red Line from Ashmont to Davis and spoke to Wu on her way into work Monday. “I’m just done with the Red Line. I’m sick of it.”
Keying off frustration at the roughly 6 percent fare hikes that took effect Monday combined with subpar service, Wu has seized the initiative, organizing politicians across political and jurisdictional boundaries in eastern Massachusetts to talk to MBTA riders about what could be done about it.
There are more parochial political undertones to the protest as well, as Wu is widely seen as a potential challenger to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in the 2021 mayoral election. Walsh, who is in Hawaii Monday for the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, tweeted his disapproval of the fare hikes taking place despite continued delays on the Red Line. Wu retweeted him. Though she will be on the citywide ballot for re-election this fall, Wu said she hasn’t been asking riders for their votes.
Given that the fare hike follows close on the heels of a system-tangling Red Line derailment that knocked out scads of signal equipment at JFK/UMass, Wu sees a unique opportunity to galvanize support for change and she has big ambitions for what the T could accomplish.
“The MBTA should be the solution to so many of the region’s challenges, not the cause of them,” Wu said. “The T should be the solution to traffic, to income inequality, to racial disparities, to climate vulnerabilities. But that all depends on expanding ridership, making it safe and reliable and affordable, and we’re not on the right track right now.”
Gov. Charlie Baker, who has resisted calls for more taxes to provide additional state funding for the T, last week announced his intention to use $50 million in surplus money to hire workers to speed up repairs and upgrades to the transit network.
“It’s nice to see the governor acknowledge that the T could use more revenue after all,” Wu said. Others, including former congressman Michael Capuano, have said the $50 million is not enough to meet the T’s needs.
Wu spent the morning planting stickers – illustrated by Will Burnett, a former Wu intern – on riders, posing for photos, and pitching a five-point plan to hike gas taxes, raise Uber and Lyft fees, initiate congestion pricing, give T riders and the city of Boston formal representation on the MBTA’s oversight board, and create more bus-only lanes so that transit riders can avoid gridlock. That last goal is largely under the jurisdiction of City Hall, and Walsh’s administration has taken some steps to create bus-lanes on city streets.
The fare hikes spare bus riders, senior citizens, and youths from the increased cost, but during her rounds on Monday morning, Wu encountered riders fed up with Boston’s transit service.
“They just want our money to continue doing what they do – facelifts to make it look good and sound good – but you’re not really stopping the problem, you’re just putting a Band-Aid over it,” said Edward “Jody” Harris, who usually stays in Harbor Point or South Boston. Harris said candidates’ stances on transportation don’t usually affect who he votes for, and he has seen opprobrium over fare hikes before.
Berry said she wouldn’t mind the fare hike if it meant better service, but her commute home the day of the derailment took around five hours and she is not happy about the prospect of it taking all summer for the Red Line to return to normal.
“You’re telling me all summer we’ve got to be inconvenienced like we’re nobodies? They can’t fix it faster?” Berry asked.A Democrat, Berry said her vote could be swayed by a candidate’s take on transportation, but she hasn’t seen politicians focus on that yet.
“No candidate concentrates on transportation,” Berry said. “That’s why it falls by the wayside.”