MBTA Fare Hikes and Service Cuts Draw Transit Activists to Protest at State House
BOSTON/State House – By many measures, Wednesday was not a good day for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Agency. A fire between Park Street and Downtown Crossing caused a long delay on the Red Line during the morning rush hour. In the afternoon, the Agency’s board voted 4 to 1 to raise fares on the “T” by an average of 23 percent and to cut services as a way of partially closing a budget gap this fiscal year of at least $160 Million.
The board vote came weeks after a series of 31 statewide public hearings on the T’s financial troubles where participants expressed overwhelming opposition to fare hikes, service cuts, and worker layoffs.
Press reports quoted MBTA acting General Manager Jonathan Davis as saying “"We cannot afford the system we have today, and the system we want is beyond our reach.”
Yesterday, over 200 activists with Occupy Boston, Occupy the MBTA, the T Riders Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and other mass transit advocates, held an afternoon rally inside the MA State House and an evening demonstration and teach-in outside the building, on the State House steps along Beacon Street.
Advocates called on the state legislature to find a lasting solution to the MBTA’s financial woes. The agency is burdened with hundreds of millions in debt, in part due to a legislative restructuring of bills left over from the Big Dig Project.
The legislature, which has until April 15th to approve the transit agency’s budget, has the power to bail out the T and potentially stop the proposed cuts in service and fare hikes. Governor Deval Patrick has proposed diverting money from an account containing funds collected during automobile inspections to the MBTA. But many advocates and legislators agree that would be a temporary fix only.
[Update: The Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation will hold a hearing on an emergency bill sponsored by Governor Patrick, H.4011, on Monday April 9, 2012 at 10am in Room B-1 at the State House.]
Wednesday afternoon, more than 100 protesters sought out Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) to demand his help. According to activists, three people were allowed in to the Speaker’s office, but were told DeLeo was not available. Activists met with his Chief of Staff.
OMB Audio: Correspondent Chuck Rosina reports on Wednesday's demonstration inside the MA State House, part of a "National Day of Action" on public transportation, sponsored by Occupy Boston. (14:10)
During the evening’s demonstration on the State House steps – renamed “Camp Charlie” for thesong character who is said to be forever trapped on the T due to not having enough money to pay the exit fare - several speakers called for “radical, direct action” as a means to impress upon legislators the harm, service cuts and fare hikes would impose on commuters.
Emily McCarthy of Jamaica Plain, described “fare strikes” taking place in several cities and countries, including Spain and New York City, as one way to protest the harmful effects of increased fares.
OMB Audio: Occupy the MBTA activist, Emily McCarthy, speaking in front of the MA State House, Wednesday, April 4, 2012 (2:05)
Other speakers explained how an accounting methodology known as “interest rate default swaps” - popular with many of the large banks bailed out by the federal government since 2008 - have heaped massive debt service on loans taken by the MBTA.
Activists with Occupy and other advocacy groups say they intend to stay in front of the State House for at least ten days; the time the Legislature has to approve the austerity measures voted on by the MBTA’s Board of Directors, or devise other strategies to prevent fare hikes and service cuts.
Wednesday night, a sprinkle of rain and threats of more weather did not deter a small group from sleeping on the sidewalk on Beacon Street.
When asked by a reporter whether people were allowed to sleep or camp overnight on the State House steps, a Boston Police officer said, “Yes, as long as there are no tents.”