Janey announces free service on Route 28 bus
Acting mayor touts city initiative with MBTA, but no plan has been finalized
WHEN THE QUESTIONING at a forum on Monday for Boston mayoral candidates turned to the idea of free fares on the MBTA for low-income residents, Acting Mayor Kim Janey didn’t just voice support for the idea, she announced the launch of a program to do it.
Janey said free service is coming for riders of the Route 28 bus, which runs from Mattapan Square to Nubian Square.
There will be free service on the route, which runs through “a major economic corridor from Mattapan Square to Grove Hall to Nubian Square,” Janey said. “I’m launching that now as mayor of Boston.”
Though a plan for free service appears to be in the works, Janey got a little ahead of developments on the issue.
Two years ago, Janey and City Councilor Michelle Wu, two of the six candidates now running for mayor, cosponsored a City Council hearing on the idea of free service on the Route 28 bus. The idea of free or reduced-fare service for low-income riders has gained traction since then. At its weekly meeting today, the T’s Fiscal and Management Control board discussed a possible systemwide pilot program of means-tested lower fares for low-income riders.
Janey’s comments came in a candidate forum on environmental and energy issues sponsored by the Environmental League of Massachusetts and the Boston Globe.
When it comes to staking out ground on environmental issues, differences among the six mayoral candidates mostly came in shades of green.
All six stressed the urgency of addressing climate change, with many emphasizing the connections between environmental issues and racial and economic justice, and several pointing to their personal connections to the issues.
“Our neighborhood was treated as the city’s dumping ground,” said John Barros, who grew up in Roxbury and served as former mayor Marty Walsh’s chief of economic development. “I’ve seen disparities first-hand throughout my life,” said Barros, who worked as a community organizer in the neighborhood and said he was found to have high lead levels as a child.
Wu said she was alarmed when 2014, the year her son was born, was the hottest year on then ever recorded. But the years since, she said, have continued to rank among the planet’s hottest, making clear how dire the situation is becoming. “I’m proud to have the vision at the scale and urgency that we need to have put forward the first city-level Green New Deal anywhere in the country,” Wu said.
The candidates wrestled with a question asking what should be done with the current site of the Shattuck Hospital in Franklin Park.
The hospital, which serves low-income patients referred by public agencies and also provides care to inmates, is slated to be closed in three years. A contentious debate has unfolded between those who favor returning the 13-acre parcel the hospital occupies to parkland and advocates who support using the land for new addiction treatment facilities and housing for formerly homeless individuals.
“Your priorities have to be clear, and as mayor I would make sure we prioritize the urgency of the moment — make sure we have the services for the residents that we need,” said Barros, who favors reusing the hospital site for human services.
City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George also voiced support for locating services on the parcel. “Hundreds of people live on the street every single night that need supportive, wrap-around housing and certain stability in their lives,” she said. “The Shattuck and that campus brings that to the people of Boston. I support that effort.”
State Rep. Jon Santiago, an emergency room physician at Boston Medical Center who lives in the South End, said he supports adding more health and social services at the site. He said the call for more parkland for public use should include consideration of the land now occupied by the Franklin Park Zoo and park’s golf course. “The fact of the matter is people are dying right now in the streets,” said Santiago, “and they need services.”
“Any time I hear ‘the Shattuck,” it gets personal,” said City Councilor Andrea Campbell. Her twin brother, who ultimately died awaiting trial while in Department of Correction custody, got medical care at the hospital as a prisoner. But she said she hasn’t yet landed on a position on the issue. “I’m engaged with residents,” Campbell said of conversations she’s having with those on both sides of the issue.
Janey also didn’t take sides in the battle between park supporters and social service advocates. “It’s unfortunate that they continue to be pitted against each other. There is more conversation to be had,” she said.
Those favoring returning the area to its original park use point to the nearby MBTA Arborway bus yard, closer to the T’s Forest Hills Station, as a better location for the social services that are needed.
Wu said the best approach would be to bring together the T, which controls the bus yard, and the state agency that would oversee any building projects there or in the park, to have “one full conversation.”
On the issue of whether to rebuild the bridge to the city-owned Long Island, which for years housed a campus providing treatment services for those with addiction issues, five of the six candidates said they favored a new bridge, citing the desperate need for services to address the opioid crisis.
Wu said she opposed the bridge project. “There are much more uses and more urgent ways to address this crisis with $100 million-plus it would inevitably take,” she said
The candidates all voiced support for efforts to expand composting in the city, all six said they would fight a proposed Eversource substation in East Boston, and all said they would favor the city opting out of aerial spraying to combat the mosquito-borne Eastern equine encephalitis virus because of concerns about health risks from the pesticides being used.Asked to rate the importance of environmental issues to their campaign on a scale of 1 to 10, five of the six candidates gave it a 10. Essaibi George, who many see as the moderate in the field, gave it an 8, citing the need to take in account affordability and “community voice.”