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'T' Cuts Would Strap and Strand

More than 100 speakers told MBTA officials on Tuesday that plans to hike fares and eliminate buses and trains will hurt people at every stop on the economic line.

Proposed MBTA service cuts and fare hikes would deliver a body blow to area residents across the board: the elderly, the working poor, the wheelchair-bound and business owners.

That was the plea to 'T' officials Tuesday in the auditorium at Lynn City Hall.

Almost 300 people, many of them bundled in winter jackets and topped with winter hats, stood at the edges and sat hunkered in their seats — but erupted when speakers struck a chord.

Citizens and elected officials alike took to the microphone and hammered away at familiar refrains.

Among them: eliminating bus routes to Swampscott, Marblehead and Nahant will leave citizens without transportation to doctors' offices and hospitals; to cultural activities; and to work.

Lloyd Caswell, 67, a lifelong resident of Marblehead who has cerebral palsy, waited his turn, No. 71, to speak. He said he was going to tell the MBTA officials that their plan to eliminate his travel route to Boston was a "shame."

He typically travels twice a week to volunteer at Mass General, boarding the 448 Route bus at Elm Street in Marblehead for South Station, before taking the Red Line for three stops.

The president of the North Shore chapter of the Massachusetts Senior Action Committee, which includes several Swampscott representatives, brought 50 members to the hearing.

Committee President Barbara Mann's biggest concern is that seniors — many of whom live on fixed incomes and have regular medical needs — and disabled people would be disproportionately impacted by fare increases and service cuts.

Local bus fares for adults are proposed to rise by 40 to 41 percent under the plan but the senior transportation access pass and paratransit services including the The Ride would jump anywhere from 125 percent to 500 percent, according to the Action Committee.

Cuts and reductions would isolate senior housing and medical facilities in many North Shore communities, the committee says.

Marblehead Selectman Judy Jacobi kept her remarks to the officials brief, given the long line, but said in an interview that the MBTA's Scenario 2 would eliminate — for Swampscott and Marblehead — the 448 and 449 bus routes to the Boston Financial District.

It would also cut the 441 Route to Haymarket Square and limit the 442 Route to Wonderland in Revere, she said.

Scenario 1 would nix the 448 and 449 Routes to the Financial District.

Both plans call for eliminating train service from Swampscott after 10 pm on weekdays and all together on the weekend.

The cuts would hurt local businesses, many of which rely on out-of-town labor from workers who travel by bus to North Shore towns. 

Restaurant owners have told her that entire kitchen staffs in Marblehead would be lost if the cuts are adopted, she said.

Leslie Gould of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce shares these concerns.

"For Swampscott and Marblehead, it's all about access," she said. As a college student she took public transportation from Swampscott to Boston University every day for two years.

Not to be overlooked is the travel in the opposite direction. In the summer, people will travel to Swampscott and Marblehead beaches, she said.

Tuesday's public hearing was the MBTA's 14th. They will continue to host hearings and collect public comments before arriving at a final recommendation in March.

The MBTA Board will vote on the plan in April. The changes would take effect July 1.

The proposed cuts and and fare hikes are a result of a financial reckoning the MBTA faces.

That reckoning includes a $163 million budget deficit and a $5.2 million debt.

Saddled by higher operating costs and with fewer revenue dollars to pay for them, the MBTA was forced to consider difficult choices that influenced as few people as possible, they say.

Elected officials including State Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, however, say Massachusetts needs a longterm solution not a shorterm fix on the backs of those who can least afford it.

"I would suggest these cuts are devastating," he said.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, said constituents are vocal on the MBTA plans.

"There are few issues that light up the switchboard like transportation," she said.

The entire Lynn City Council — minus one member with medical issues — as well as the mayor told the MBTA that the proposal could spell deep trouble for a city that is trying to gain economic traction through developing arts and entertainment venues.

One official said the MBTA has 531 employees who earn over $100,000, accounting for $58 million.

Look for some savings by cutting from that pile of money rather than burdening people whose incomes are minuscule in comparison, he said.

John Buba February 08, 2012 at 03:35 PM
These meetings, while attended by well meaning people are actually just playing into the T’s hand. The T proposes fare hikes AND service cuts, then schedules hearings. People complain about the increase in fares; but complain more about the service cuts. The T management then stands up and says: "We have heard your complaints; what you are telling us loud and clear is that you want fare increases, but you do not want service cuts." That is what the T wanted all along – more money. This is from the same playbook as the sales tax increase. Remember? First propose a whopping increase in the gas tax, wait for the outcry, then propose a more "modest” sales tax increase. What we want is a better run T. Cut the fat (i.e. deep layoffs, reduce benefits, automate, etc.) just like a real business.

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