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July 1, 2019

Dorchester Reporter: Riders, electeds protest #UnfairHikes across MBTA system

The morning rush started and the timing of the next train from Ashmont was a mystery – but it did cost more than it did the day before.

Fare increases took effect Monday morning, raising costs for MBTA riders by around 6 percent on average. Subway with a CharlieCard increased from $2.25 to $2.40 for a one-way trip, monthly subway passes increased from $84.50 to $90. Commuter rail fare hikes vary by zone, with monthly passes ranging from an extra $5.50 in Zone 1A inside Boston to $27.75 for Zone 10 at Wickford Junction, R.I.

Some fares are not changing: Local bus one-way fare and local bus monthly pass, and the reduced one-way fares for local bus and subway and monthly passes for seniors, TAP riders, youths, and students.

These fare increases did not go down easily for commuters, and local officials piled on in protest. Helmed by City Councillor Michelle Wu, a #BostonTParty rally on Sunday transitioned to a system-wide #UnfairHikes effort on Monday morning with more than 300 volunteers and 50 elected officials and candidates at stations looking to engage riders in discussion and activism on behalf of a better MBTA.

“The idea is people are frustrated, they’re tired of service getting worse, and fares are going up and the last thing we want people to do is disengage and feel like their voices don’t matter,” Wu said at Ashmont Station around 7 a.m. She is encouraging the state to look at new revenue options like a gasoline tax to bolster the system.

The action on Monday was designed to connect riders for future coalition work and make their frustrations known.

Wu would ride the Red Line through to Park Street that morning, talking to riders on board and taking half an hour on the JFK/UMass platform to talk with commuters near the site of last month’s major derailment. Signal clocks between Ashmont and JFK/UMass were still inoperable, as signal bungalows were heavily damaged in the derailment. Slower service is expected to last through Labor Day.

“It kind of ruins the beginning of your day knowing what’s coming,” said Lower Mills resident Jeffrey Drayton as he waited for the train to depart. The senior and daily Mattapan Trolley and Red Line rider said the extra 25 minutes he has to book in since the derailment have been “awful, awful,” and he opposes the fare hikes, though the commute itself is generally “very good.”

Carey Adams, of Roxbury, was only on the Red Line to visit a friend. He and Wu, both typically Orange Line riders, discussed the worst performing T branches.

“I was kind of hesitant to take the Red Line because of all the trouble they’ve had,” he said. With the transit chaos it can take “hours to get downtown,” he said, telling Wu, “the Red Line’s the worst line if I’m going to be honest.”

The fare hikes are ill-advised at this stage, the 19-year city employee said. “Someone should have done something a long time ago,” he said. “The fares keep going up, the service gets lousier and lousier.”

The MBTA tweeted at the start of service that the $30 million expected to be generated by the new fares “will help support the $8 billion, 5-year capital investment program that began July 1, 2018… We know it’s hard to see the progress of our capital investments as you ride the system, but tangible benefits like new Orange Line cars and the re-opening of Wollaston station are around the corner.”

The trip from Ashmont to JFK/Umass station was slow and halting, with the train sitting for 15 minutes at Ashmont and stopping for a handful of minutes at Savin Hill and JFK/UMass. Each train pulling through JFK/UMass was full and stayed ta the platform for around 5 minutes during the morning rush.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who made transit equity a central argument in her 2018 midterm run for office, tweeted that this is “first and foremost an issue of civil rights. It is unconscionable that in [the Massachusetts 7th District] – a district that has the worst rush hour traffic in the nation – residents are forced to struggle to afford their commute. #UnfairHikes.”
Her district office is near the Shawmut stop on the Red Line, where volunteers form her office congregated in support of the protest.

City Council president Andrea Campbell spent the morning at the Ashmont MBTA station.

We need faster service on all of our lines,” Campbell said. “The Red Line is very special to me because it’s the heart of my district, which is mostly Dorchester and Mattapan. But most importantly, all of these upgrades and repairs should not fall on the back of our residents, who are hard working and coming to the T hoping today it’s working, which sometimes it doesn’t. So the system really needs to get it right, and that means the administration and of course the State House.”

The state legislature in 2015 voted for the creation of the MBTA control board and authorized fare hikes. Many state elected have voiced opposition to these hikes, including State Sen. Nick Collins and state Rep. David Biele.

Mayor Martin Walsh, attending a mayors conference in Hawaii, reiterated his objection to the hike on Twitter.

“Today the MBTA increased its fares, despite continued delays on the Red Line and beyond,” he said. “Boston needs a seat on the board to fight for Boston residents to finally have public transit that gets them where they need to go, when they need to get there — a service that they are already paying for & that they deserve.”

Wu is calling for a bigger rider presence on the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board. Fare increases were approved 4-0 by the Gov. Charlie Baker-appointed board.

In an Boston Globe op-ed, Wu said she the board should “include a rider representative, a permanent seat for the City of Boston, a rotating seat for municipalities in the T’s inner core service area, and a rotating seat to represent communities served by commuter rail.”