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Quincy MBTA hearing sparks outcry from community, local officials

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 16, 2012 05:19 PM

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Over 400 people came out Wednesday to protest the service cuts and fare increases of the MBTA, changes that are working to resolve the organization’s $161 million deficit for FY13.

Unlike earlier meetings in Hingham, MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis sat in the front row of the hearing, looking directly at every speaker issuing their grievances and even taking the microphone to respond to several questions.

“We don’t like to cut cuts…we cannot afford the transit system we have today,” Davis said. “These are proposals, nothing has been decided at this point in time. We continue to work towards other solutions. We have not been able to come up with additional revenues or anything that would offset that [deficit].”

Despite his candor, audience members heckled and booed numerous times throughout the presentation, hissing at the mention of service reductions to many of the areas bus lines, and shouting “NO” at the thought of ferry eliminations.

Numerous audience members said the cuts disproportionately affected the city’s elderly, poor, and disabled.

“This is not just a transportation issue, this is about housing and jobs too,” said Peter Forman, President of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. “The T opens up wide housing markets allowing people to move out of the city and find more affordable housing while being able to maintain jobs in the Boston area… The T and the ferry play an important part in the tourist industry and the grater South Shore.”

State Senator John Keenan, and State Reps Ron Mariano, Tackey Chan, and Bruce Ayers also spoke against the cuts, saying that the reductions were a step back in transportation advancement made in recent years.

“There will be additional loss of jobs and additional closing of business. This cannot be done, particularly in these economic times,” Ayers said.

“We recognize the fiscal dilemma…but your presence here tonight is a strong presence that the burden of these hikes can’t just be borne by the people in this room,” Keenan agreed. “This is a problem that was a long time in the making. And it can’t be solved in one fiscal year with strong reactions.”

Audience members were emotional and forthright, people like Michelle Stone-Easler, from Weymouth, tearing up as she spoke about her dependence on The Ride. A disabled person herself, she doesn’t have the option of just driving a car.

“If you cut the service. I lose my job. I’m no longer a homeowner. I would be on the backs of all of you for social security,” she said.

For Alyce Lanoue, a legally blind woman from Braintree, if the cost of public transportation goes up, she wouldn’t be able to volunteer as often at the Carroll Center for the Blind.

The thought of increased cars on the road is also scary, she said.

“Its difficult to cross many streets now. With increased cars it’s a fearful thing. I urge you to consider all these things,” she said.

The meeting came on the heels of an analysis of the proposal by the MBTA Advisory Board Finance Committee.

In it, the report calls for a 25 percent - $75 million - increase in fares combined with a series of cost reduction, and new revenues that will close the budget gap without the necessity of service cuts.

According to a release, the committee agreed that there are a number of bus routes that do not meet any reasonable service standard and proposed a process to eliminate them that is not related to the deficit.

Although he made it clear that he didn’t support all of the amendments proposed by the committee, Advisory Board Chairman Thomas Koch said it was a step to putting more realistic options on the table.

“There will be a number of additional options on the table, some legislative, some from the government team. The two scenarios just isn’t acceptable,” Koch said. “Residents are hugely dependent on the bus and red line, Quincy has been build around transit. [The options as they exist now] are troubling.”

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