READING – Great schools, great location, and easy access to public transportation. It’s a theme repeated on the Reading website touting the reasons to consider life in 01867. But if the MBTA gets its way, public transportation options will be reduced in an effort to save money. Those potential cuts include service to Reading.
The Reading Select Board has been following the MBTA budget process, called “Forging Ahead,” and Tuesday night took a stand hoping that Reading isn’t left behind. The board unanimously agreed on sending a letter to Governor Charlie Baker in protest of the cuts.
At last count, there are six new residential developments in Reading either recently completed or in the planning stages. Soon, they will all be filled with residents attracted to Reading for various reasons, including a train station and bus connections. What happens if that changes?
“Reading is being affected by these cuts,” said Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado, who led the MBTA discussion. “They’re combining the 136 with the 137 bus lines, the commuter rail, the Haverhill line, they’re ending weekend service entirely. We already had limited service to begin with. They’re also making changes to The Ride. They’re decreasing hours and changing the ADA program which means that disabled riders who use this service will be charged more. These are really significant changes.”
The Select Board isn’t alone in its frustration. The Massachusetts Congressional delegation wrote a letter to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak last week protesting the cuts. Representative Stephen Lynch was outspoken with Baker, saying that the state has received federal funds to use for transportation but hasn’t used them. Select Board chair Mark Dockser referenced Lynch’s comments.
“If the T doesn’t take advantage of these funds, there will be a very strong federal cut repercussions that will ensue. We’ve been given the money to use for transit. And it needs to be used,” said Dockser of Lynch’s statement. “His note was uncharacteristically sharp.”
“The cuts they’re proposing disproportionately effect lower income individuals, both in our area and elsewhere. People who don’t have alternative means of transportation,” said Alvarado.
The board voted 5-0 to join a growing chorus of communities protesting the cuts and send the following resolution to Baker.
■ The MBTA has cut service frequency temporarily for many bus and rail routes, citing low ridership during the pandemic;
■ The MBTA simultaneously suspended service on at least nine bus routes, leaving some underserved areas without good transit alternatives;
■ The MBTA has a history of never reinstating suspended routes;
■ Expected savings from MBTA service cuts made during the pandemic total only about $21M in the current fiscal year;
■ Federal pandemic assistance for the MBTA totals nearly $2 billion within the last twelve months;
■ To date, the MBTA has put most of its federal pandemic-related funds into its capital budget or held funds for post-pandemic operating costs;
■ Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation have expressed significant concern that federal funding has not been allocated to reversing these cuts;
■ Commuter rail conductors are subject to permanent furloughs in a precarious economy exacerbating same;
■ Overcrowding on some extant routes has already been documented since the service reductions, which as it continues will discourage ridership worried about COVID transmission;
■ These cuts affect thousands of lower-income residents, who depend on public transit, including a disproportionate number of people of color, non-English speakers, and people with disabilities —precisely those most impacted by the pandemic and resulting recession;
■ Unreliable or infrequent transit pushes users to seek alternatives, many of which have greater impacts on our environment, on our public budgets, and on household expenses;
■ The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) noted in its comments to the MBTA that these cuts have a direct impact on the Commonwealth’s need to produce more housing, and without transit, new housing will increase sprawl;
■ Congestion is already increasing on highways into Boston as the region slowly returns to work;
■ To fight climate change and recover from the pandemic, access to public transit must be increased, not decreased;
We ask our representatives and senators in the General Court to join us in demanding the MBTA reverse the “Forging Ahead” cuts and restore service to pre-pandemic levels as soon as possible.