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.
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.
“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.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.