BOSTON/State House - Six disability rights activists blocked Beacon Street for nearly an hour Monday afternoon, to protest a proposed increase in the cost of using MBTA services that amounts to a doubling of the cost for many riders.
Chanting "if we can't ride, you can't drive" the wheelchair bound activists stopped traffic on Beacon Street in front of the General Hooker entrance of the State House. Other activists ran a long silver chain and padlocked five of the six chairs together.
Members of the Mass Senior Action Council and housing advocates with Jamaica Plain-based City Life/Vida Urbana participated as well but did not block the street. Attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild observed the protest.
Drivers, backed up for as far as the eye could see down Beacon Street, honked their horns to encourage the protesters to move.
Proposed increases in fares to the trains and the "The Ride" van, used by seniors and the disabled to go to work and get around the city, will pose an insurmountable hurdle, say advocates.
The protest began a few minutes after 12 noon. Boston Police arrived approximately fifteen minutes later and tried to convince the group to move out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Attempting to strike a compromise, an officer, Lieutenant Tom Lee, asked that at least one protester move his chair so that a lane could be formed to allow cars to drive down Beacon.
James Brooks, an organizer with City Life and one of the protest leaders refused to have the group move. He told police their demand was to reach out to Governor Deval Patrick and have him speak directly to the protesters. The Governor has the power to veto MBTA fare increases as proposed currently.
No one from the Governor's office was seen meeting with the disability protesters publicly. It was not clear whether or not the Governor was aware of the protest.
In a statement issued Monday and emailed to Open Media Boston, Governor Patrick's Press Secretary, Kimberly Haberlin, said "The Governor as well as members of his administration have met directly with commuters throughout this process, including at the 30 public hearings held across the state.
We value the public's input and recognize they helped shape the final proposal which avoids the most drastic cuts. That said, we know this plan is a one-time patch and we need a permanent financing solution to the broken and underfunded transportation system we inherited.
While we have taken important steps to reform, streamline and reduce costs at our transportation agencies, we must have an honest conversation about what kind of system we want and how to pay for it.
We will need the commuters who were here today to continue to engage as we work with the Legislature on a long-term fix."
The state legislature, which must approve the "T" budget including a 100% increase for "The Ride," has not shown much willingness to reduce the fare hikes or develop other funding mechanisms.
Police were visibly reluctant to physically remove the demonstrators. At one point, two officers tried to move activist Brian Shay and his electric wheelchair which was locked in place and very difficult to budge. Lieutenant Lee explained that if necessary, the protesters would be removed from their chairs and placed in the back of a police wagon, possibly risking injury to the disabled demonstrators.
At that point, approximately 50 minutes into the demonstration, James Brooks conferred with the other protesters and agreed it was not wise to risk injury while being arrested.
Vowing to return and block traffic again, if necessary, the protesters said they were angry but not deterred from their struggle to make sure riding mass transportation is affordable.
They renewed their demand that Governor Patrick agree to veto the MBTA fare hikes.
Due to a reporting error, Officer Thomas Lee was incorrectly listed as a Lieutenant. His rank in the Boston Police is that of Captain.