Dozens of residents streamed to the microphone in Medford City Hall Chambers Wednesday night to voice concerns over possibly losing bus routes in Medford and MBTA fare hikes.
“It will be a disaster for every community that is impacted by the bus routes,” Winthrop Street Resident Susan Altman said before the packed crowd. “But it will also be a disaster for Boston because all those people who cannot take buses any longer but can get in a car will be doing that. That will be dreadful.”
Local legislators held the informational meeting Wednesday to hear from residents on two proposed plans from MBTA: One that would dramatically cut routes with modest fare increases, and another that would cut some routes with dramatic fare increases. Both aim to address a projected $161 million deficit the MBTA would face in 2013 if the state doesn’t find new funding sources.
Wednesday’s meeting was coordinated by State Representatives Paul Donato, Sean Garballey, Carl Sciortino and State Senator Pat Jehlen to get input from T riders and to give them an update on what the legislature is doing to address the funding shortfall.
“(The Legislature) knows that the most important issue besides healthcare is the T, and we need to find a long term solution, whatever that may be,” Donato said. “I’m not sure at this point any of us have the answers.”
Garballey, the chairman of the legislature’s MBTA caucus, said one possibility could be an open-road toll on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border. Whatever the solution is, it must be amendable to the whole state, he said.
“We’re really looking at any solution possible,” Garballey said. “Everything is on the table; it has to be.”
Jonathan Davis, General Manager of the MBTA and a Medford resident, also attended the meeting. He sat in a chair lined-up against a sidewall in the chambers, sitting silently and occasionally taking notes as rider after rider walked to the microphone and addressed the legislators seated behind the rail.
Mystic Street resident Audrey Stanwood wondered what would happen to the already-packed MBTA subways if there were massive bus route cuts – especially when there are sporting events in Boston.
“Are they all really going to bring cars into Boston?” She said. “Where are they going to park?”
Rising fares could cause some who depend on the T to have to cut back with other spending, hurting the local economy, Medford resident Maryann Broxton said.
“Not only is it going to be affecting families, all the businesses are going to be feeling it too,” Broxton said.
MBTA Chief: Neither Proposal Will be Used
After announcing its two proposals in January, the MBTA scheduled a series of hearings to weigh public input on them. Once those hearings finish at the end of February, MBTA officials will look things over again, and come up with a final budget by April 15, Davis said in a brief interview after the meeting.
“When we came out with the two proposals we didn’t expect either one would be implemented in its entirety,” Davis said.
Instead, the input from some riders at the hearings will potentially be implemented in the final solution, he said.
“What we’re hearing across the board is not only do they not want reductions, they want increases to public tranportation,” Davis said. “However, we have the stark reality of a $161 million deficit, and we’re required to submit a balanced budget to our board of directors.”
But Davis bristled when asked if the hearings would put pressure on the legislature to find more funding for the MBTA.
“I’m not going to go down that road,” Davis said. “But we do understand this affects people. If we have to implement some of these service changes some people might be left out of having public transportation options. That’s not something we like.”
As legislators look for a short-term fix to the budget deficit, the MBTA is looking for short-term money-saving options, Davis said.
“We continue to look for ways to reduce head count without affecting jobs and also without affecting quality service to our customers,” Davis said.