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South Shore locals and politicians protest MBTA changes with petitions, calls to action

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 26, 2012 04:08 PM

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Weeks after the MBTA outlined two proposals to reduce the budget deficit, reduce services, and increase rates, South Shore residents and local politicians are slowly but surely coming to arms.

The biggest point of contention may be the commuter boats. Under both proposals, the ferry service would be eliminated.

In response, locals have created a website called "Save the MBTA Ferry" to protest the changes.

The page lists everything from an online petition for people to sign, to the MBTA in the news, even to upcoming events -- including MBTA's Acting General Manager Jon Davis's scheduled ferry ride on Feb. 3.

A Facebook page has also been created to protest the ferry elimination.

Jeanne Reynolds, a Hingham resident who rides the ferry daily and is spearheading the petition process, says she has already collected 1,600 signatures.

"My goal is to get as many signatures as I can," she said in an earlier interview. "Probably three to four thousand. Last year, I just did it through the boats, but now I will do it through the town of Hingham [and online]. It's really an important issue to me."

Yet it isn't only residents who are concerned about the elimination of the ferry service. Area politicians are also calling on the MBTA to introduce changes geared more toward financial planning rather than just service cuts.

State Senator John Keenan (D-Quincy) has backed a measure that would restrict future MBTA commuter rail expansion projects until the authority can identify how it will pay for them.

"At least three prominent reports issued over the past decade have urged the MBTA to refrain from major service expansion projects until it figured out a fiscally responsible way to pay to build and operate the new lines," Keenan said in a release. "It appears that this did not happen; that the MBTA simply moved forward with these projects, maxing out its credit card to pay for them, while being unable to afford day-to-day operating and maintenance costs."

Keenan pointed to numerous studies, including a 2009 review of MBTA finances by former John Hancock CEO David D'Allessandro, a 2007 Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission study, and a 2002 Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report entitled "MBTA Capital Spending: Derailed by Expansion," all of which conclude that expansion was not badly needed and the consequences would be severe.

"While public transit expansion projects can help spark economic development, it is clear that future expansions, particularly those not required as mitigation for the Big Dig project, should not happen until the MBTA tells us how it plans to pay for them, and whether building and operating these new lines will result in service cuts elsewhere," Keenan said.

Senator Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) also issued a statement protesting the proposed cuts to the commuter boat service and again objecting to the commuter rail expansion.

"During the years of negotiations over the construction of the Greenbush Commuter Rail Line from 2001 to 2007, I strongly advocated for an expansion of commuter boat services both in Hingham and Scituate over the creation of the commuter rail line. I have long since believed that Greenbush represents a decision marked by poor planning and false promises," Hedlund said in a release.

Motor vehicle traffic has not been reduced by the Greenbush Commuter line, and operating costs and debt costs are steep, Hedlund said.

"The commuter boat represented a better investment at the time of the Greenbush negotiations, and has only continued to look better since the new line's completion. Eliminating an economically viable and potent industry in my district is not the way the T should go about solving its debt burden," he said.

Hedlund and others are encouraging the public to come to two meetings in the South Shore about the proposals -- one on Feb 8 from 6 to 8 at Hingham Town Hall, and another on Feb. 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy.

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