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Noisy protests end Mass. transit panel meeting

By Bob Salsberg
Associated Press / March 27, 2012
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BOSTON—A transit authority board committee abruptly adjourned Tuesday after opponents of fare hikes and service cuts proposed for the Boston-area transit system staged a noisy demonstration.

The finance committee of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's board of directors had scheduled the meeting to discuss the agency's budget and other matters, but quickly determined it could not get any meaningful work done amid the hundred or more shouting and chanting protesters who crowded into the boardroom.

The panel voted to adjourn within minutes after convening.

"I'm a big believer in the First Amendment. I think people have a right to tell their public officials, including us, what they think, including when they think we ought to be dismissed and thrown out of the room," said panel Chairman Ferdinand Alvaro.

MBTA officials have yet to make public their final recommendations for closing a projected $159 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Acting MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis said officials plan to issue their final recommendations before the end of this week.

"We understand that our constituency and our riders want to know how their service is going to be affected and what the fees are going to be," Davis said.

In January, the agency outlined two potential scenarios, one suggesting a 35 percent hike in fares and the other a 43 percent increase but with fewer service cuts. Both scenarios called for eliminating weekend commuter rail service and Boston Harbor ferries. Officials subsequently held more than 30 public hearings, and have made clear they are not bound to either of the two scenarios.

The finance committee had not planned to take any official action on the budget at Tuesday's meeting.

"We were going to have some dialogue on it today," Alvaro said. "It was my plan to give management some thoughts and ideas before they came forward with their final proposals to the board."

The meeting was open to the public and no attempt was made to remove or quiet the protesters, who represented several groups.

The demonstrators remained in the boardroom, speaking and chanting for nearly an hour after the committee members left. One group declared itself "the people's board" and held a mock vote against the fare increases.

The protesters demanded that MBTA officials ask Gov. Deval Patrick and the state Legislature to remove from the transit authority its share of responsibility for billions in state debt incurred during Boston's massive Big Dig highway project, and endorse other suggestions made by a group calling itself the "Fast Five" that attends meetings dressed in superhero costumes.

The demonstrators did not rule out staging similar protests at upcoming meetings, including an April 4 meeting of the full board. By law, the board must approve a spending plan by April 15.

"We're saying that it is unacceptable for this fare increase and these service cuts to go forward," said Mela Bush, a spokeswoman for the Boston-based Greater Four Corners Action Coalition.

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