Open Letter to MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board

December 14, 2015

MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board
Chair Joseph Aiello, Vice-Chair Steven Poftak, Lisa A. Calise, Brian Lang, and Monica Tibbits-Nutt
10 Park Plaza, Suite 3910
Boston, MA 02116

RE: T Riders Union Testimony on December 15 Report to Legislature
 

Dear MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board Members,

On behalf of the T Riders Union (TRU) program at Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), I am submitting this testimony offering our perspective on your upcoming December 15 report to the Massachusetts Legislature.

ACE is an environmental justice organization with 1,000 members based in the Dudley Square, Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. For more than 15 years, our programs—including the T Riders Union (TRU), the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (REEP) and Environmental Justice Legal Services (EJLS)—have been working with Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) riders, both adults and young people to organize and advocate for an affordable and reliable public transit system for all.

ACE, TRU, dozens of organizations, elected officials, and tens of thousands of riders, business owners, and residents are deeply concerned about what this board plans to include in its long-awaited report to the Legislature. Over the last six months, your slideshows have depicted cost inflation and stagnating ridership—a misleading representation of problems. We hope that you will change direction to bring honesty and clarity to this situation.

Increased funding is the keystone solution for the MBTA and without this, it will be impossible to stop the MBTA from falling apart. Last winter should have made that clear to each of you, as it very publicly showed the depths of the MBTA’s financial crisis.

To assist the board in developing an honest and useful report to save our system without the usual short-sighted, pass-the-buck decision-making, we offer the following:

  • 1.  The MBTA is not a business. Public transit is a public good, and should be prioritized and discussed as such. Not only is it crucial to the lives of thousands of transit-dependent riders, it is the engine that drives our entire economy, workforce, and educational system. It connects residents with community and healthcare, protects our environment, reduces traffic, and enables our region and Commonwealth to function. Whether or not you ride the T, we all depend on the system. It needs to be sustainably funded by the State House—the only truly efficient road forward.

    2.  The MBTA’s financial troubles are not rooted in mismanagement of funds. The problem stems from decades of legislative demands that the T make a dollar out of fifteen cents. This absurdity has brought us to the breaking point: Buses and trains are falling apart, riders are punished with endless fare hikes, and ridership stagnates. This is a destructive, willful denial of reality.

    3.  Fare hikes and service cuts are NOT the answer. If raising fares worked, we’d be in the black by now. The 2007 fare hike was the largest in recent history, followed by the second largest in 2012. Fares are already prohibitively expensive for thousands of residents—raising them again leaves vulnerable riders behind for a meager drop in the bucket. In contrast, an affordable, well-funded system that is protected from service cuts will marshal new riders and public support for the recovery of this essential service.

    Backtracking on the five percent biannual fare cap is a profound insult. I personally, among thousands of others, fought for the fare cap in the 2013 legislation. I can tell you with certainty that the intent—understood by both elected officials and riders—was an increase limit of five percent every two years, not ten percent. Charging more for the same broken system without a sustainable funding plan is an appalling abuse of power. Shame on you for manipulating a law meant to protect riders from significant and unexpected fare hikes.

    4.  The MBTA budget should not reflect a deficit. In 2013, riders and advocates won legislation that secured an additional $600 million in funding to the MBTA over five years, with $261 million due this coming year. This would provide the T with a $21 million surplus, yet Governor Baker is cutting $75 million from this year’s promised funds—an amount that would cover the cost of a fare hike by more than three times.

We need you to demand that the State House reverse Governor Baker’s irresponsible decision to cut MBTA funding, and release the promised $261 million to prevent further damage to ridership and service. A world-class public transit system serves the public good and boosts our region and economy. Your report needs to propose real solutions to fix the MBTA financial crisis instead of the same disastrous schemes that have run our system into the ground. Thank you.

Sincerely,
 

Caroline Casey
Community Organizer
T Riders Union (TRU) program at Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE)