Over the past weeks, I have been studying the MBTA budget balancing proposals and hearing from many constituents about the proposals.

I’m planning to submit a letter to the T summarizing what I have heard. I thought I would post the draft here so that people could identify any concerns or solution ideas that I had failed to include.

You can comment here or, if you prefer, send an email to me at willbrownsberger@gmail.com or directly to Michael.Buckley@MASenate.gov who has been compiling input on this issue for me.

If you wish to comment, please do so before February 25. I will finalize the letter shortly after that.

Note:  See also this post from me about the financial big picture of the MBTA, this Globe article about the T Debt and this collection of detailed information from the MBTA.

The text of the DRAFT letter appears below:

Dear Secretary Davey,

I write to you today in opposition to the MBTA’s proposed service cuts.

I have received hundreds of emails, phone calls, web posts, and petition signatures from constituents across my Senate district who oppose these proposals. During my district office hours, I have spoken to individuals of all ages and backgrounds who rely on local bus routes on a daily basis. My constituents are well-informed and have shared with me their insights, concerns, and solutions to the MBTA’s current financial crisis.

From Belmont to Brighton to Back Bay, bus routes must be protected for the public good and economic vitality. It must be our priority to maintain adequate transportation options for individuals to travel between neighboring communities and throughout the metropolitan region to access educational, employment, and cultural opportunities and also to patronize local business areas:
• Residents in Arlington, Watertown, Cambridge, and Belmont hope to see the 62, 76, 350, and 351 bus routes protected to maintain an affordable alternative to reaching suburban towns close to and beyond route 128.
• Brighton residents rely on the 501 and 503 express buses to get to downtown Boston.
• The 64 is one of the few routes between Brighton and Cambridge. It is the only accessible and convenient route for Oak Square residents, and it should be saved.
• The 74/75 and 78 buses provide essential commuting service for many Belmont and Arlington residents.
• Fenway and Back Bay residents utilize the 55 bus heavily.
• The 52 bus provides a connection used by many at the Perkins school for the blind.

Traffic would inevitably rise with fewer bus routes available and thus increase congestion while threatening air quality. For instance, consider the 78 bus route that travels between Arlmont Village and Harvard Station. Several constituents have approached me with concerns regarding the existing and consistent heavy traffic along this route, especially on Concord Avenue, Blanchard Road, and Brighton Street. In addition, existing overcrowded bus routes, such as the 57 utilized by Allston and Brighton residents, could be more heavily burdened by the rise in passengers based upon the lack of other alternative routes through these neighborhoods.

2011 MBTA ridership increased by 4.5 percent from the previous year as it climbed to 1.279 million passengers on an average weekday. A great demand exists and we must develop a sustainable fiscal solution. I look forward to working with you and my colleagues in state government to put public transportation on a track to financial stability for the long term.

While I will continue to urge short-term relief from the legislature, if that is not forthcoming, I reluctantly acknowledge the need for a 2013 fare increase in order to prevent the deeper service cuts proposed under scenario 2. However, we should try to protect the most vulnerable public transit users who already allocate a large portion of their personal budgets to fares. The fare increases for seniors and the disabled should be limited. Also, perhaps the MBTA could give Charlie Card discounts for persons who are participating in selected programs that are based on income eligibility or disability.

In order to generate additional revenue in the long term, I support a gas tax increase. 21 years have passed since we last increased the gas tax. I support allocating all gas tax revenues back to the region where they are raised. Consequently, residents on the Cape and in western Massachusetts would not be paying for the MBTA. As we look further into the future, I would support allocating additional general revenue funding to stabilize and strengthen transportation generally in our Commonwealth. State funds should be allocated first and foremost to restructure debt payments and improve maintenance.

Finally, I hope that you will not hesitate to advise the legislature of any areas in which you feel you need assistance in controlling costs.

Thank you for your attention to my concerns and these particular bus routes that are vital to my constituents and the economic vitality of the communities in my district. I look forward to working collaboratively with you on solutions. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly to discuss these ideas and concerns. I can be reached on my cell phone at 617-771-8274 and also at my State House office at 617-722-1280. 

Note: This post is closed for additional comment, but please follow this link to share your views on how to address the MBTA’s challenges in our discussion forum.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

25 replies on “DRAFT Letter to the MBTA”

  1. Don’t forget the elimination of the Green Line “E” train on weekends, making trips to Symphony, Jordan Hall, the BU Theatre, the Gardner Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts much more difficult, and on days when families make use of leisure time to visit these cultural monuments. The #39 bus, which does parallel the T for a bit, doesn’t cut it. For someone traveling from Cambridge, for instance, there will be a need to take three separate modes of transportation, and to stand in the cold for unreliable buses.

    I also don’t think that you cite the unfairness of the proposed fare increases, with its heaviest burden on seniors (175%, 100% proposed increases) and students.

    Thanks for your effort,

    Ann Scott

    1. Thanks, Ann. We’ll add the E line.

      We do say:

      However, we should try to protect the most vulnerable public transit users who already allocate a large portion of their personal budgets to fares. The fare increases for seniors and the disabled should be limited.

  2. I thank you for your attention to this crucial matter, and I offer a few suggestions.

    I appreciate your recognition of specific travel routes that are especially important to your constituents. It is implied but not spelled out that the businesses, institutions, and individuals at their destinations will also suffer, and those impacts will affect far more people across the region. Moreover, we are all related environmentally; increased air pollution is a harm we will all share. It is important to emphasize that damaging the transit web will hurt us all, not only specific transit users.

    I support a gas tax as a legitimate revenue increase and as an incentive toward use of renewable energy. But the transit system should not be put on a narrow diet again; the idea of a “dedicated funding stream” for a critical service is not appropriate, whether that stream is the general sales tax or a specific sales tax on gas. It is not dependable. We should fund the lifeline of our social and economic activity from our core general fund, where its needs can always be publicly vetted and appropriately met. That is the way to achieve financial stability for the long term.

    Finally, re limiting gas tax use to the T region, I believe that transportation for the major metropolitan area of the state should not be viewed as a local funding responsibility. Every part of the state benefits directly or indirectly from good public transportation here, and every municipality should be encouraged to enhance its mass transit as part of the overall web of connections. Further, our government model is to collect taxes uniformly and distribute them as needed; we may need the T more than do western residents, but our pooled money also goes to things they need and we don’t. I caution against a public policy promoting self-funding public services, turning every service catchment area into a sort of Business Improvement District, “every tub on its own bottom,” so to speak. This narrowing of interests is contrary to a broad and generous concept of the commons – a concept that has already been gravely compromised by trends toward privatization, segregation, etc. We are, and should be, a commonwealth.

    Rather than agree to harmful fare increases as a band-aid, we should demand that the state immediately take over the Big Dig debt unfairly placed on the MBTA. This would instantly solve most of the shortfall problem, and it would be only fair. This debt shift was a cover-up for political incompetence and corruption. Why should transit riders be singled out for punishment, while the politicians escape accountability at the hands of the general taxpaying electorate?

    There is also a long-term solution to the overall problem. If we ended the state’s corporate welfare boondoggles, we could make ours the best transit system in the nation. Let’s do what needs to be done, not just what’s most easily done. We can force riders to pay more with the flick of a pen; they are helpless. We can even raise the gas tax relatively easily, by promising everyone they’d keep their own revenues. But what we need to do is right the wrongs of the bigger system, so we don’t keep pitting our public service needs against each other every year while Fidelity, Raytheon, Liberty Mutual, Fallon Development, Vertex Pharma, the film industry, etc., quietly siphon off our money. WHY DO OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS LET THIS GO ON?

    Please make your next letter about that, and address it to your colleagues and the Governor.

    1. Thanks, Shirley,

      I’m willing to invest more of the state’s general revenues in transportation for all of the reasons you argue. But in terms the gas tax in particular, as part of the solution, I think that the voting public will be more receptive to a gas tax increase if they know that it will be spent in their own region. People on the Cape don’t want to pay 5 cents per gallon for the MBTA. That is a lot of what killed the idea in 2009. I broadly agree that they benefit indirectly, but it’s not compelling for most voters. The Boston region has most of the state’s population so that channeling revenue back to the region where it is raised will strongly benefit the MBTA.

  3. I am also concerned about the idea of stopping the commuter rail weekend service. This is a vital service for people commuting back and forth from the city to out-lying communities. It is an affordable transportation for those of limited income, especially students, who nay not even own cars. I have often used the Fitchburg Line to visit friends who live further out and for going into the areas close to North station. It is best for all in this crowded area if people don’t bring their cars with them. The Providence Line is a vital means of transportation for my daughter who does not own a car and uses the line to get into Boston on the weekends when she works at the Aquarium.
    During difficult economic times, public transportation needs to be supported, not reduced.

  4. Dear Mr. Brownsberger,
    “During difficult economic times, public transportation needs to be supported, not reduced.”
    This is why you’re our guy, thank you! There are many ways to structure fare increases during hard times, including passes for people on unemployment or other state and federal benefits, as well as for the elderly, disabled, and in-school. Also, peak hour fares for working commuters, etc. The consensus seems to be that given a choice between NO SERVICE and a fair and modest increase in fares, we choose the latter.
    Thank you for representing the people so well on this issue.

  5. Hi, Will,

    I support a gas tax increase on numerous grounds, not the least of which is the additional revenue for the T. Re fair increases, I happen to have the luxury of being able to afford them. I strongly suggest that to the extent possible, the burden of fair increases be imposed on persons with the ability to pay. Obviously, one cannot require an income tax return to ride the bus, but I like the idea in your letter of exempting the elderly and the disabled from any increases.

    Thanks very much.

  6. Thanks, Will, this is a vital issue. We can’t put the burden of the Big Dig debt on bus commuters in your district.

    In your letter, it might be helpful to mention all the new developments planned in Cambridge, especially in the Alewife area. These will no doubt further increase bus ridership and/or road congestion.

    As Belmont continues work to revitalize Belmont Center and improve the parking situation there, rising demand for the bus and train service there can be expected for that reason also.

    While commuters are the driving need for these bus routes, it is also worth noting the social benefit of young people gaining independence from parental taxi services by taking public transportation. When my daughter took her first solo trips from Belmont to Boston’s Community Boating in middle school, I was biting my nails, but knew the safe bus and subway route was giving her invaluable lessons on her path to young adulthood.


  7. Hello, Senator Brownsberger:
    (Wow. That sounds good!)

    The T is the economic engine of the Boston metropolitan area. Good public transportation is a lifeline for an urban area.

    Eliminating service will hurt the economy, hurt the economic viability of the region (especially the part of Massachusetts that is inside of 128). We should stop the abandonment of T service, and additional revenue dedicated to transit is a sound investment in our communities.

    That said, we really need to take a look at the structure of the bus service and how it ties into the rail lines. The T could do so much more to provide a more strategic and more efficient service that will attract riders.

    My first example is the connection to bus lines at T stops. The buses all run independent of the trains; if you leave a red line train at Harvard, you can walk up to the busway and see the taillights of your bus. You can be lucky and arrive at the platform just before the bus arrives. However, the schedules are not coordinated. If the average rider can look at a smartphone and find the location of any bus in the system, why can’t the T talk between buses and trains to sync the schedules?

    The second example is the design of the bus routes. The T runs a bus from Central Square to North Waltham. The bus route terminates about a half-mile from Route 2. If you are in North Waltham and want to get to the Red Line, you need to take an hour-long ride through Waltham, Watertown, and Cambridge to get to Central Square. Why? Why not extend the route toward Alewife, so folks in Waltham have two options and two directions that will get them to a Red Line stop?

    The third example also involves Waltham. A 128-regional business organization runs a bus to the Waltham business area from Alewife – but it’s not part of the MBTA system. Why not? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have all the bus service in one system? Why are we paying for the L’Express in Lexington, which doesn’t connect to the frequent bus service in Arlington Heights? Wouldn’t the Lexington service be more valuable if you could transfer to a bus in Arlington Heights? Similarly, I work in Lowell (a block from the transportation center) and live in Arlington Center. 100 years ago I could have commuted by streetcar or rail. Now there’s a MBTA bus to Burlington, and an LRTA bus from Burlington to Lowell. Why split the routes? Because there are two operating authorities? We should get rid of all the barriers between operating agencies, paint all the buses the same color, and make this a real statewide system.

    Pour some money into transit – it’s a worthy investment. But let’s make it a system..

    1. Thanks, Paul.

      I do think that the MBTA is trying to keep improving the system. But as you say, it is hard in a time of limited resources.

      I agree that a reliable, well-connected transit system is essential for every dense urban area and that is the challenge we face — to put the system on a sound financial footing for the long term.

  8. Thank you for your support on this. I am a strong supporter of public transportation for all the reasons you mention, and consider it a disgrace that this country is so far behind others in regard to supporting a reliable transport system available to all.
    When I moved to Cambridge almost five years ago, the availability of buses and the T was a major draw, and since I gave up my car almost a year ago I depend on the MBTA to get around. I’d be willing to pay more, but any cutbacks in service would seriously impact my professional and personal life.

  9. Thank you for your letter on the MBTA cutbacks. This is a big issue for so many people.

    Regarding your first comment about the bus route 351 elimination: please note that riders use this bus to get to and from their jobs at companies like Mitre Corporation.

    The 351 has limited runs in the morning and late afternoon only. These employees have no other means of commuting as they do not drive or own cars. It will mean that these productive employees will need to seek other employment possibly out of state where there is reliable public transportation. This bus runs only on weekdays and the riders would definitely pay a premium fare as well as accept elimination of some of the run times. That is preferable to lose of work.
    It would logically seem a good investment, as others have mentioned, to make public transportation a strength rather than an impediment to growth.

  10. Please do add the weekend commuter rail to the letter. It’s vital.

    I would also recommend that you initiate hearings on why the MBTA is in such deep financial trouble. I have learned from persons who work for the MBTA that there may be serious problems of mismanagement.

    I would support a gasoline tax.

    Thank you for this excellent initiative and for your support of public transportation. You, along with my fellow citizens who have posted here, make a compelling case.

    1. Re commuter rail, will do.

      I think the biggest single cost issue that hasn’t been fully addressed is still the health care costs. But now that the MBTA employees are in the state system, it’s really a part of a larger statewide issue. We’ll be looking at that over the months to come from a couple of different vantage points.

      1. While much of the press about the commuter rail focuses on eliminating weekend trains, the cuts go beyond that. I understand that one proposal will reduce the number of outbound morning commuter rail trains to a single train. Miss that train, and you either drive or don’t get to work or school. Similar cuts are being proposed for the evening commute. With no options, people will go back to driving. A cycle of service reductions leading to reduced revenue from regular commuters becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fare increases (combined with cost controls on the operating budget) are the better alternative, with some of the protections you and others are proposing for low income and elderly residents.

        1. Point very well taken — the options on the commuter rail are already so limited as to make it an unattractive commuting option for many. I took it for a few weeks when we first moved back to Belmont before concluding that the agita about the possibility of missing a train and having to wait hours was too much to take. I switched to walking to Alewife and taking the Red line — more exercise and more flexibility and just little slower.

  11. Where were all these people when Gas hit $4 a gallon and when the Tolls were being raised? They were laughing at Car owners and now they want non MBTA users to share the burden of a poorly run State entity. This is a problem that should be worked out by management and the MBTA users but there shouldn’t be cost shifting to non users as the security hand off would be. It should be a mix of elimination of inefficient lines, major reform inside the MBTA, and fare increases. Will the T lose riders… Yes but many will come back when they see the massive cost of Car ownership.

  12. I agree with Paul Looney. Allow some of the free market forces to work. I’m a T rider and believe upping the cost of my LinkPass (Scenario 1 Fare Increase) from $59 to $80 is still a good deal…if they kill routes 78 & 76 I’ll be walking a little more…Will, I for one would like my elected representative to be focused on what the MBTA management could be doing better. Am I correct that 10% of wages is OT(30 million)? Most businesses would try and come in at 5% or lower. What is the status pension/health reform for T employees? Allowing employees to receive pension/health after 20 years regardless of age is not sustainable. Lastly, I’m in the parking business…everyone pays to park including Senior Management. Everyone riding the T should pay…that means T employees and our elected officials…

  13. Thanks, Spencer and Paul.

    You are right that many users can afford an increase, and I don’t think we can avoid that, but I do think there T users that we should be concerned to protect — the disabled especially who often cannot drive and have limited incomes, but also many people of very low income who commute long distances to service jobs.

    We definitely need to focus on the savings side. We in the legislature are asking that set of questions too. See the response from T management at this post: http://willbrownsberger.com/index.php/archives/9573. See also this exchange on an earlier post: http://willbrownsberger.com/index.php/archives/8972#comment-1961

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