T oversight board hears cons, pros on fare hike

Municipal-business coalition urges group to stay the course

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Public comments skewed heavily against fare hikes ahead of an MBTA control board discussion on proposals that would raise rider fares an average of either 6.7 percent or 9.7 percent.

Out of 33 commenters who spoke on the fare hikes, 17 opposed the increases, while nine urged the Fiscal and Management Control Board to limit any hikes to 5 percent. Another four speakers spoke in support of the board, and three others raised a variety of concerns about the impacts of fare hikes and the public process.

The tenor of comments ranged from constructive feedback to accusations of lying and arguments that the fare hikes would disproportionately harm ethnic minorities.

“These fare hikes are racist,” said Andy Moxley, of Dorchester, one of a couple speakers to accuse the board of contemplating a racist fare-hike policy.

Tyree Ware, of Dorchester, argued that the hearing held midday at the state’s Transportation Building excluded Boston Public Schools students and others who otherwise might speak out against the hikes.

Ware asked people in the room to raise their hands if they had ever had to choose between food or riding the bus, and after no hands appeared in the air, he said, “This is something that me and the people around me face.”

Ahead of the public comment period, a coalition of mayors and business groups urged T leadership to stay the course – points they reiterated before the board.

Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Eileen McAnneny, the co-chair of the Fix Our T coalition, thanked the control board in a press conference and offered no suggestions about how the board should handle the fare hikes. The board previously advanced the two fare-hike proposals into the public comment stage.

Saying the board would face “considerable pushback,” McAnneny urged the board to “do what it takes to balance the operating budget” and said, “We had to take the decision-making outside of the political process.”

The coalition includes 40 employer organizations and mayors who represent 1.5 million people. “We came together last year to make sure that a shutdown of our public transit system never happens again,” McAnneny said, according to prepared remarks. “We recognize the importance of the MBTA to the economy of Massachusetts and when it doesn’t function employees lose wages, businesses lose customers and the state loses tax revenues.”

McAnneny commended the control board for ensuring that the growth in operating expenses is not outpacing revenues “for the first time in 15 years” and said MBTA absenteeism is down and information about the transit authority’s debt and pensions is more accessible.

Louise Baxter, a frequent commenter at MBTA meetings, told the News Service she thinks “political stuff is involved in the board,” noting the members were appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

“We ask this control board to be strong. We stand with you,” said Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, co-chair of the Fix Our T coalition.

Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley said fare hikes would encourage people to drive, clogging city streets.

“We’re almost at a choking point in many, many parts of this region,” said Kelley.

Clark Taylor of Needham said the fare hikes would be “unfair” to low-income people, and he suggested Needham residents such as himself “should have our taxes raised” to subsidize transit.

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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.

Caroline Casey, of the T Riders Union, accused MBTA officials of “lying” about a budget gap, when the Legislature appears poised to provide funding to cover any shortfall.

After receiving comments from the public for a little more than an hour, the control board entered a closed-door executive session.