Wu plans to press fare issue in July 1 system-wide canvass

Councilor’s embrace of transit issue smart politics, says rep

LEANING INTO THE political potential of MBTA rider outrage, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu plans to organize volunteers to canvass straphangers on July 1, the day a roughly 6 percent fare hike takes effect.

The at-large councilor, who opposes the upcoming fare hike and has suggested making the whole T free to ride, hopes to engage commuters during the July 1 morning rush hour in a discussion about how to make transit more affordable and reliable.

“Those of us who take the T every day are fed up with inaction to fix our public transit system, and sick and tired of being told that the MBTA is moving in the right direction. Beginning July 1st, riders will be paying even more for the choice between unreliable service or sitting in the worst traffic in the country,” Wu said in a statement sent out by her campaign. “We need to marshal the political will for aggressive progress forward.”

The transit-based politicking will take place roughly four months before the general election, when the at-large councilor will presumably be on the ballot seeking a fourth term. Some see November’s contest as a test run for how Wu would match up against Mayor Marty Walsh in a potential 2021 competition between the two for the city’s most powerful office.

Walsh has been more moderate than Wu in criticizing the T, which since 2015 has been under the control of Gov. Charlie Baker, a political ally of the mayor. The mayor supported the fare increase when it was debated and even after the June 11 derailment. But then he switched gears this week and said the fare increases should be put off until service returns to normal on the Red Line, which has been slower than usual since the derailment at JFK/UMass. Walsh and Wu also favor giving the city a seat on the T’s oversight board. MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said delaying the fare hikes would be unfeasible, and the T has already budgeted in the additional revenue it expects to receive from fares.

Wu, who received on-the-job political training in US Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s successful campaign to unseat Scott Brown, has seized upon the transit issue, lending her voice to those of frustrated customers who are fed up by delays and crowded facilities and are displeased they will need to pay more starting next month.

Wu’s organization around transit looks like smart politics and presents a clear challenge to the mayor, according to Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, who said Wu is also clearly genuinely concerned about the issue.

“It’s certainly more than a shot across the bow,” said Holmes, who added that Wu’s actions are “starting to feel larger than city councilor at large.”

Holmes said he stayed out of the last mayor election in 2017 between Walsh and Tito Jackson, who was then a district councilor, and he backed Walsh in the 2013 general election against City Councilor At-Large John Connolly. Holmes had endorsed Charlotte Golar Richie earlier in 2013, but she didn’t make it past the preliminary.

Wu, who has received a lot of media attention in her advocacy for change at the T, has also put the lie to the idea that Boston’s city council doesn’t have much power, Holmes said, calling her T organizing a “very smart political move.”

Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman Gus Bickford said he appreciated both Walsh and Wu speaking out about the T, and he expects to see others organize politically around the state’s troubled transportation system.

“I think everybody should be organizing on it because we need to fix the transportation system, because it’s beyond broken,” Bickford said.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party has sent people out to Baker’s public appearances to hold up signs calling on the governor to ride the T, and the party launched a petition calling on the Swampscott Republican to ride the T, which has exceeded 1,000 signatures. Walsh, who said he has only ridden the T four or five times since becoming mayor in 2014, discounts the idea that much of anything would be gained by the governor riding the T.

Bickford said he hopes the governor catches political blame for the area’s transportation problems, which more people have started to call a “crisis.” Jay Gonzalez, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor, made the T and the state’s transportation problems a central issue of his campaign. Gonzalez only picked up about a third of the vote statewide, and bested Baker by less than 4,000 votes in Boston, a transit-reliant Democratic stronghold.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Wu’s campaign doesn’t yet have a handle on how many people will join the effort to organize on subway platforms and trains on July 1, but roughly four hours after announcing the canvass on Thursday afternoon, the Facebook page indicated 20 people made plans to participate and another 86 indicated interest.

Wu also plans to hold a rally on Sunday, June 30, the day before the new fares take effect.