MBTA puts the squeeze on suburban legislators, the MFA, and the BSO

The MBTA has released a detailed list of service cuts it's threatening to make if it doesn't get any help in reducing its $160 million deficit — presumably in the form of revenue from a gas tax increase. People are predictably outraged, but I have to give the T points for political cleverness and even economic fairness.

The biggest single cut would be the elimination of all commuter rail on weekends and after 7 p.m. on weekdays, plus the closing of 16 commuter rail stations. That makes sense, since there isn't going to be a gas tax hike without the support of legislators from towns with commuter rail but no subway service. One can argue that the expansion of mass transit into less densely populated areas isn't worth it in terms of easing congestion or reducing pollution, but it's possible that the T's extensive commuter rail system will be the only thing that stops the Legislature from gutting mass transit in Boston itself. (Advocates of inner-city transit have reason to worry that a new rail line to New Bedford would drain resources from Boston's subway system, but if a new line gets South Coast legislators to support the MBTA as a whole, neighborhoods like Dorchester might come out ahead.)

The shrewdest threat is to shut down the Green Line's E branch completely on weekends. That would greatly inconvenience patrons of Symphony Hall, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Huntington Theatre, as well as Northeastern University students. The Bay State's philanthropic leaders can't be pleased about the prospect of declining attendence at the institutions they've been funding over the years.

In contrast, the T is careful to note that it won't be reducing service to Lechmere Station at the other end of the Green Line. Lechmere is not a big destination for society swells, but does serve as a terminal for several bus lines that go to middle- and low-income neighborhoods, and it does allow people without cars to get to a mall (CambridgeSide Galleria) that's not as pricey as those in the Back Bay.

I also noticed no station closings planned for the Orange Line and the Ashmont branch of the Red Line, even though they both have stops that are little used or that are within walking distance of other stations. But then, legislators from Ipswich or Wellesley probably wouldn't lose much sleep over those cuts.