Public Transit Battles Heat Up as MBTA

Hikes Fares

by John MacDougall, John Ratliff  and Jonathan King

Ignoring the testimony of hundreds of pubic transit passengers and dozens of community organizations, the MBTA Fiscal Advisory Board voted recently to increase fares an average of more than 9% for its buses, subways and commuter rail trains.

The increases extend to monthly passes high school students use to get to and from school. These fare hikes fall unfairly on those least able to afford them, and represent a regressive tax.

At the same time the Board raised fares, they cut services, most notably the late night service heavily used by hospital and restaurant workers.

Testifying at the Feb. 29 MBTA hearing, Jean Cronin, 74, of Central Square, active in the Mass Senior Action Council, spoke for many seniors in noting that the fare hike will be a serious burden for people like herself who still need public transportation to get to work. Social security recipients did not receive any cost-of-living increases in their checks this year.


Representatives from a number of Community Heath Care Centers explained that efficient public transit was absolutely critical for their clients to access adequate health care.

“Every business, institution and entity in the Greater Boston area either depends upon or benefits in some way from the public transit functions of the MBTA,” argued Jonathan King, speaking on behalf of the Cambridge Residents Alliance.

Studies from Transportation for Massachusetts and the T-Riders Union showed that the State Legislature had appropriated sufficient funds to cover the immediate deficits, without fare hikes.

The increased fares can only decrease ridership: they will push T and rail passengers who have access to autos back into using them. The shift back to cars will increase the burning of gasoline and hurt efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming.

The failure of the T and commuter rail during the heavy snow last winter has brought public transit problems into sharp relief. Traveling to, from, and through Cambridge has grown increasingly difficult in recent years. Given the regional importance of the Red Line, the bus lines and major vehicular routes, congestion in Cambridge causes serious problems not only for Cambridge residents, but for people throughout the Greater Boston area.         

Intense struggles are currently under way over:

  • Whether the MBTA fare increases can be rescinded;
  • Whether the desperately needed Green Line extension through Somerville—long  planned and fully designed—will be funded (see Connolly article in this issue of Neighborhood Voices);
  • Whether the federal and state capital funds needed for new Red Line cars, signal equipment, and power supplies will be appropriated.

On the recommendation of our Public Transit Committee (Torgun Austen, Mike Connolly, chair, Jonathan King, John MacDougall, and John Ratliff) the Cambridge Residents Alliance has joined with two of the coalitions addressing these vital issues: Transportation for Massachusetts and the T-Riders Union. Both groups oppose fare increases as a means of financing regional MBTA service.


The authors are members of  the Transit/Traffic Committee of Cambridge Residents Alliance and the Mass Budget for All Campaign. John MacDougall works with the 350Ma Transportation Group and the Climate Working Group of Mass Peace Action. John Ratliff is Secretary of Mass Senior Action, and active with the Budget for All and Raise-Up campaigns. Jonathan King is V-P of Cambridge Residents Alliance and works on Transit issues with the Budget for All Coalition and Mass Peace Action.

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