Students voice opinions during MBTA town hall
It was standing room only last Thursday evening as Brandeis students, residents of Waltham, state Senators and representatives of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority addressed the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts at a town hall forum in Waltham's Government Center Auditorium.
Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives for the MBTA Charles Planck, outlined prospective changes to service and fares on the T, and then moderated an open mic session with MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis. By the time the meeting started at 6 p.m., over 100 people had signed up to speak.
"We know this affects people," said Davis. "All people of the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] should be concerned about the proposals we have on the table."
Student Union President Herbie Rosen '12 and Student Union Vice President Gloria Park '13 were among the first 50 people scheduled to speak. Park urged the MBTA representatives, "please don't forget us, students, as proud members of the Waltham community," emphasizing that many students do not have access to cars and therefore rely on public transportation to travel to and from internships—that are often unpaid.
"Our pockets aren't as deep as you think," said Rosen of the potential fare increases.
With higher prices and less frequent service, particularly on the commuter rail and the 553 bus, the benefit of Brandeis' proximity to Boston is severely diminished, said Rosen.
"We are feeling that these proposals are … cutting that entire experience," he argued.
Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy, the first speaker of the night, also mentioned concern that students at Brandeis and Bentley College would be "severely impacted" by the changes.
Residents of Waltham and neighboring cities focused their comments primarily on the issues of pollution, traffic congestion, transportation to jobs and doctors, effects on house values and the debt from Boston's "Big Dig" project being saddled entirely on the MBTA.
"Without this bus route, there is no work," said one Watertown resident of the local bus route that she rides to work every day.
Members of the Waltham City Council, State Senator Susan Fargo, and 10th Middlesex District State Representative John Lawn all spoke out against the proposals.
Fargo said that they were "a source of much conversation at the state house."
According to Davis, over 4,500 people have attended such town hall meetings to date. Waltham's meeting was the next to last of 24 held by the MBTA.
The last town hall forum is scheduled to take place tonight at Massasoit Community College in Brockton.
Under the first proposed scenario, the commuter rail fare from the Brandeis-Roberts station to Boston would increase from $4.75 to $7 per trip and service would be eliminated on weekends and after 10 p.m. on weekdays.
Bus fare, which now ranges from $1.50 to $5, would grow to $2.25 to $7, while the 553 bus (Downtown Crossing via Newton Corner and Central Square, Waltham) would be eliminated on Saturdays.
Under the second proposed scenario, the commuter rail fare would rise to $6.50 and service would be eliminated on weekends and after 10 p.m. on weekdays.
It would also mean a fare increase to $2 for local buses and $4.50 for inner express buses, as well as the complete elimination of the 553 bus.
Charlie Ticket prices for the subway would rise from $2 to $3 under both proposals.
While the MBTA continues to take suggestions, Davis cites statutory requirements and pressure to submit a balanced budget to the state by April 15 as reasons for the proposals that are currently under consideration. Any plan that is adopted—likely a combination of the two, according to Davis—would be implemented by July 1.
While Davis reported that ridership was at an all-time high last year, the MBTA still expects to see a $161 million shortfall in Fiscal Year 2013.
Rosen and Park plan to circulate a petition on campus protesting the cuts in the coming weeks, and will submit it to Davis and Waltham's state Representatives by March 12, Rosen said in an interview with the Justice. The text of the petition will be emailed to the student body, and it will be available to sign outside the Student Union office on the third floor of the Shapiro Campus Center. Rosen said he and some of the senators would also be passing the petition around to students in dining halls.
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