(SHNS) – The MBTA’s public hearing Wednesday night on proposed fare increases seemed to touch virtually every grievance and concern directed at the authority in recent years.
Attendees shared stories of being late to work because trains were too full to let on new passengers and of standing on crowded platforms with no information about delays. They warned that the proposed hikes, which average about 6.3 percent, would disproportionately harm low-income commuters who rely on public transit. They cautioned that, by the T’s own estimates, higher fares would drive down ridership and push more travelers onto already-crowded roads in carbon-spewing vehicles.
In total, dozens of elected officials, transit activists and residents spoke Wednesday, virtually all arguing against the fare hikes.
“If Boston is truly a world-class city, when are we going to get a world-class transit system and not something that feels like children playing with trains?” said Salem resident Frank Emanuele, who recounted receiving 29 text alerts about service on the Rockport line last Thursday alone.
Since the MBTA announced the fare hikes last month, the plan has been met with significant pushback. More than 2,000 people had made comments about the plan across six public meetings before Wednesday, and dozens of elected officials have already come out in opposition.
The proposal would raise fares by an average of 6.3 percent, but each type of transit faces a different change. A single ride on the subway would increase from $2.25 to $2.40, while a bus ride would increase from $1.70 to $1.80. Commuter rail costs could increase as much as 75 cents for one trip or $27.75 for a monthly pass in the farthest zones.
Transit officials say the measure — the first fare hikes since 2016 — would create about $32 million per year in new revenue as the authority works to grow after years of financial challenges. MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed on Monday that the plan “will enable the MBTA to continue building on its progress made over the last four years to improve reliability for customers.”
But attendees Wednesday night were not swayed by that argument. They cited frequent delays, breakdowns and gaps in service as priorities that need to be addressed without higher costs to commuters.
“I, and I’m sure most T riders, already feel we’re paying too much for such abysmal service,” said Egan Millard, a Weymouth resident. “The $217.75 I now pay every month for my subway and commuter rail pass is a real hardship for me, and what does it get me? Commuter rail service so infrequent I have to plan my entire day and sometimes week around it, some type of delay almost every day, severe overcrowding every single day and truly appalling conditions in every station.”
Many acknowledged the need for funding, but argued that mass transit is a public good. Some suggested lawmakers raise the gas tax, which has only been increased once since 1991, or require the state to fund a larger portion of the MBTA.
“This is a public good, like health care, like education, and we should treat it like such,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets advocacy group. “It’s not about getting a few cents from the riders. What we need is for the administration to work with the great elected officials who came here and said they’re ready to fund the T.”
Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, who submitted a petition in opposition to the increases, argued that the MBTA should in fact be free to riders.
“Imagine the opportunities and access that will open up,” she said. “That is the approach we should be pushing for, not a regressive fare hike on the backs of working families.”
Criticism came from several other elected and government officials. Earlier Wednesday, Boston City Councilor Althea Garrison, who said she opposes fare increases “under any circumstances,” suggested that the city withhold its $85 million annual payment to the MBTA until improvements are made.
The State House’s Boston delegation, a group of 19 senators and representatives, signed a letter in opposition, describing the current climate as “the wrong time” for a proposed fare hike. Rep. Mike Connolly called a fare hike “tantamount to class warfare.”
Boston’s Chief of Streets Chris Osgood and Commissioner Gina Fiandaca wrote a letter to the MBTA asking the agency to, “at a minimum,” keep costs level for senior, youth and disability passes, consider expanding the M7 passes for Boston students, and maintain bus-only passes at the current rate until the system is improved.
Rep. Tommy Vitolo even approached the topic with a prop. Standing at the podium, he lifted up a can of Arizona iced tea.
“It costs 99 cents, says it right on the can,” he said. “It’s cost 99 cents for 18 years. What the good people of Arizona iced tea figured out is if you don’t improve the quality of the T, you don’t raise the prices.”
He then opened the can and drank from it, drawing loud cheers from the audience.