T budget and service cuts are unwise

Let’s tap wealthy, big corporations for needed revenue

FOR DECADES, the MBTA has suffered from a chronic lack of investment. The bottom fell out during the record-breaking winter storms of 2015. Since then, the MBTA has carried out layoffs, service cuts, fare hikes, and misguided privatization and “public private partnership” schemes that have not solved our region’s transit problems. We have seen train derailments and other safety failures during that time. COVID-19 has only made the situation worse as fare revenues have dropped. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, the T’s own leadership is threatening to derail the system by enacting a series of hastily considered budget and service cuts.

MBTA management and the T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board are planning massive service cuts – totaling up to $150 million – that would slow the state’s economic recovery, increase vehicle traffic and pollution, and reduce access to the system for riders throughout the system, including those who depend on it for survival.

Gutting service will worsen economic opportunity at a time when the Commonwealth’s economy is already struggling. Those of us who continue to rely on transit during the pandemic are largely low-income, immigrants, and people of color, who need transit to stay afloat. Our communities are hardest hit by COVID-19, and we are most likely to be frontline workers, with jobs ranging from grocery and fast-food workers to health care providers – jobs which can’t be done from home. MBTA cuts would also limit the ability of those of us who used to commute – but are currently working from home – to get back on the train, bus, or ferry once the pandemic is under control. The ripple effects on downtown businesses small and large are already evident.

A weakened T could also result in a surge of cars on our roads. A daily headache for commuters, traffic congestion brings increased pollution that is associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes in places like Chelsea, which has had one of the highest pandemic tolls in the Commonwealth. Of course, automobile pollution also accelerates climate change, which is already having a profound impact on our state.

The economic and environmental benefits make it clear: public transit is a public good. Today, community and labor groups are coming together to relaunch a coalition formed during a previous crisis: the Public Transit, Public Good Coalition. We are calling on legislators and the MBTA to stop the cuts, find new sources of progressive revenue for transit statewide, and assure a meaningful public voice in the process.

In 2012, when considering service cuts of a smaller magnitude, the T held dozens of public meetings spanning three months. This time, they’ve allowed just four weeks between proposing specific cuts and voting on them. There is not enough time to hold public hearings, much less to respond meaningfully to public input. At its October 19 meeting, the Fiscal and Management Control Board refused to play all of the recorded public comments it had received about the planned cuts, a move that did not raise riders’ confidence that their voices will be heard.

Bold action by the Legislature could help avert the needs for service cuts. We need new revenues that come from wealthy individuals and big corporations that are doing well, even during the pandemic. (Corporations like Fidelity, Wayfair, Amazon, and others who do business in the state have thrived since the pandemic hit. And over the first three months of the pandemic, 18 Massachusetts billionaires saw their wealth increase by almost $17 billion.)

Last spring, a House transportation bill included a new tiered structure for the corporate minimum tax that could raise $150 million. This and other progressive revenues – such as an increase in the tax rates on unearned income and corporate income – could raise over $1 billion annually to fund transit and other public goods. And, of course, the November election could dramatically reshape the chance of federal aid – it doesn’t make sense to lock in permanent cuts at a time of so much uncertainty at the federal level.

Meet the Author

Mike Vartabedian

Assistant directing business representative, International Association of Machinists District 15
Meet the Author

Olivia Nichols

Transit justice organizer, GreenRoots Chelsea
As home to the first subway in the western hemisphere, Boston has been a transit-oriented city for more than a century. Much of our region’s economic success is due to the connectivity that a transit system provides. We are now at a point where, rather than cuts, major investment is needed to bring the system into the 21st century and expand it for the sake of our economic growth potential. As transit riders and transit workers, we call on the T and the Legislature to make that investment, not cuts that will hurt us all.

Mike Vartabedian is the assistant directing business representative for the International Association of Machinists District 15 and Olivia Nichols is the transit justice organizer at GreenRoots in Chelsea.