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T wraps up hearings on proposed service cuts, fare hikes at Brighton meeting

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  March 12, 2012 09:17 PM

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Autumn McManus spoke last on Monday night during the final public hearing on proposed MBTA service cuts and fare hikes as the agency looks for ways to close a projected $161 million budget gap by next month’s deadline.

The 24-year-old said he is used to waiting. Using a mix of T subway and commuter rail trains from his home in Brighton, he travels a total of four hours to get to and from his eight-hour shifts working as a cook in West Concord. He said he pays $210 a month for that commute.

Like many who spoke at Monday night’s hearing at the Veronica B. Smith Senior Center in Brighton Center, McManus said proposals that call for not only lessening access to public transportation, but also making it more expensive, are “absurd.”

“I’ve noticed the people being impacted the most [by proposed cuts and fare increases]: it’s the commuter rail, the E Line, the Mattapan High Speed rail,” he said in an interview after being the last of more than 1,750 people to speak at 31 MBTA budget hearings held over the past two months.

“It’s the people from working class neighborhoods who due to the economic situation are forced to travel long distances, rely on public transportation, and can barely afford that,” McManus added. “I’m sickened by this.”

Counting an estimated 200 on hand Monday night, about 6,000 people have attended the hearings that came after the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority released two different scenarios. Each would raise fees and reduce services at different levels, but aim toward the same goal of filling the financial hole the agency faces in the coming fiscal year.

The T’s board has until April 15 to approve a budget for fiscal year 2013. That budget, and any service cuts or fare increases that go with it, will take effect July 1.

Nearly all those who spoke Monday echoed the plea heard at hearing after hearing since the sessions began in mid-January -- that the T choose not to implement either of the proposed scenarios.

Instead, riders have asked MBTA officials to look harder to find some way to avoid cutting service or increasing fares, with service cuts having been more widely opposed than fare increases. And, many have asked that the T avoid changes that would impact society’s most vulnerable, including poor, elderly and disabled people.

But MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis said Monday night their neither of the two previously-released scenarios will be selected by the agency’s board.

Instead, the committee that drafted those two initial proposals will take the transcribed testimony from all of the hearings’ speakers and additional feedback received in more than 5,600 emails and draft new recommendations. Davis said he hopes those recommendations will be submitted by the MBTA board’s monthly meeting on April 4.

Covering costs of advertising, interpreters, transcribers, and the sporadic need to rent sound system equipment, the T spent about $45,000 to hold the public hearings on the proposals, said Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the T.

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