Red-Lined: Proposed MBTA Cuts Would Hit Belmont Hard

Ah, to be a progressive-minded fool living in this most interesting of all times in the U.S. All around us is evidence of need – BIG THINGS that need doing if our great nation is to lead in the next century as it did in the one just passed.  We need investments in R&D that will spawn the next Google or Boston Scientific or A123. We desperately need investments in infrastructure that will push our country to a more sustainable, efficient and healthy way of life and reduce our dependence on imported oil and the medieval, anti-democratic regimes that supply it to us.   In short: we appeal to our elected leaders to “help” – to show us a path to a future that’s better and brighter than what we’ve had for the last decade: war and waste and fear and paranoia… dreams dashed or deferred for millions of Americans.

And what answer do we get back from our government? Well, its a kind of Alice in Wonderland thing, but we basically get a message that says: “sorry, nobody’s home” and “you’re on your own.” This phenomenon has been repeated over and over again since the financial crisis broke back in 2008 and 2009. I think its well represented, this week, by the MBTA’s just announced proposal to deal with an $161 million operating deficit (PDF) by, basically, demoting itself to a second rate transit system. The cuts proposed will hit Belmont hard and, in one of two scenarios, all but eliminate bus service to the town (excepting the #73 electric bus line along Belmont Street and Trapelo Road.)

Unless the legislature comes through with funding to support the T in its current (already reduced, fared-up) state, the cuts are going to be deep. According to the released document, the T is proposing two alternate plans – both of them bad, and one of them terrible for Belmont.

The plans, dubbed Scenario 1 and Scenario 2 cover the projected deficit by raising fare revenue and cutting service. Scenario 1 is projected to raise annual fare revenue by $123.2 million to $134.6 million, increasing fares by approximately 43.0 percent and saving approximately $38.3 million in operating costs through reduced service($161.5 million to $172.9 million in savings). Scenario 2 raises annual fare revenue by $86.8 million to $104.0 million – increasing fares by approximately 34.7 percent and saving $78.4 million in operating costs through reducing service ($165 million to $184 million in savings.) Scenario 1 is projected to result in a ridership loss of  between 34 and 48 million rides. Scenario 2 by 53 million to 64 million rides.

Both plans anticipate fare increases for both senior citizen and student fares, which are set to 50% of the adult fare. That’s a jump for senior citizen fares from the current 33% of the adult fare. Basically, the big difference is what “adult” fare the student and senior rates are pegged to. In the first scenario, they’re pegged to the fare on the adult CharlieTicket – a higher fare. In the second, they’re pegged to the lower adult CharlieCard rate. Whatever – those tweaks to the reduced fare schedule aren’t great, but they’re kind of besides the point. The majority of the savings in both plans come from two areas: service cuts and changes to The Ride, the T’s service for disabled riders. I won’t even get into the proposed cuts to The Ride, which are just reprehensible. I’ll just say that when you read euphemistic little observations like:

“While no service reductions per se are proposed for THE RIDE, the increase in fares and the institution of a premium-fare zone are estimated to reduce the demand for service under both scenarios, saving the MBTA the cost of serving the trips no longer made.”

You should just read that as “we’re anticipating great savings by pricing disabled people out of our service.” Having seen, first hand, how critical THE RIDE is to a severely disabled and wheelchair bound friend, and how little money most such folks have to live on in the Bay State, these cuts seem particularly heartless – no matter the savings.

But back to those bus route cuts. As the map below indicates, the T plans on reducing service on or outright eliminating routes that fail what it calls the “net cost per passenger” standard. Its complicated, but basically read that as “routes that we have to subsidize too much” where “too much” is a calculation of the subsidy per rider. Suffice it to say that the routes that go through Belmont, including the 72, 74/75 and 78 all are subsidized more than the T would like. In the first scenario, all we lose is the 78 line, with service eliminated on weekdays and weekends. The 78’s been on the block before, so no surprise there. Under what the T calls Scenario 2 – which relies less on fare increases – the cuts are deeper: the 75, 75 and 78 are all eliminated on weekends and weekdays. Needless to say, for the hundreds of commuters in town who rely on those bus routes to get to and from work, well…

MBTA, service cuts, Belmont

Red Lines Indicate Eliminated Routes

I know this must be a mistake, right? I know that when all we hear from Washington D.C. (and our nation’s best and brightest) is about the critical importance of cutting our dependence on imported oil and changing our car bound culture that we, in the most progressive state in the Union, couldn’t possibly be talking about ADDING millions of car trips per year to our already overtaxed roadways, right? And when President Obama talks about the importance of rail and of restoring our once great infrastructure, we can’t really be talking about taking one of the nation’s few solid public transit systems and reducing its size and scope drastically, right? And, finally, when the MBTA itself talks about the huge demand for its services and the rapid increase in its ridership, this stuff about them cutting bus routes and jacking up rates is just a big joke, right? I sure hope so. In the meantime, it might be worth a call to Beacon Hill to voice your opposition to the T’s proposal and to sound the alarm for emergency funding.