Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Boston Becomes the Latest City to Cut Back Mass Transit; Impose Fare Increases

I've written here several times on TDS about the madness of our nation cutting back on our already fairly limited public transportation services at a time when the need for those services has never been greater. Yes, most such local transportation authorities are deep in the red these days, but that hasn't prevented governments at all levels from stupidly pumping more public dollars into building roads and highways even as the number of total vehicle miles traveled has been dropping due to high gas prices and a sluggish economy and will no doubt continue to drop.

Now from the MetroWest Daily News, comes a story about the the latest proposed fare increases and service cutbacks for commuter rail in the Boston area:
MetroWest residents might soon think twice about taking a Friday night trip to Fenway Park on the commuter rail, or even about accepting a job in Boston. That’s because as part of its plan to get out of the red, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said it will likely raise commuter rail fares about 40 percent and eliminate weekend and late night service.

But local officials and legislators, not to mention commuters, say MBTA cuts and fare hikes will hobble MetroWest and take a sizable chunk from peoples’ pocketbooks.

“I have serious concerns about limiting the access to affordable public transportation and the impacts it will have on the quality of life of our residents and the economic vitality of our region,” said Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland.

The MBTA, $5.2 billion in debt, recently proposed the first fare increase in five years.

“The MBTA is by no means pleased with the prospect of having to cut service, but we are struggling to deal with a $161 million deficit in next year’s budget,” said T spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

There are two MBTA proposals to reduce that deficit, both of which would eliminate all weekend commuter rail service as well as weekday service after 10 p.m. One would raise fares by 35 percent and the other by 43 percent.
The story goes on to discuss the impact this will have on people's lives:
“I’m thinking about starting to drive to work but that’s expensive,” said Framingham commuter Arun Radhakrishnan last week, stepping off the 6:31 p.m. train from Boston. “I feel I’m stuck with no choice.”

“We certainly understand the important role that the commuter rail plays in many lives,” Pesaturo said.

MBTA data shows that almost 5,000 people commute by train daily into Boston from MetroWest.

According to the state Department of Transportation, commuter rail ridership would drop by 20 percent with the proposed service cuts and fare increases.
And right here is the evidence of just how important this service has become in this era of permanently high gasoline prices:
Overall MBTA ridership increased nearly 6 percent last year, with 1.3 million trips taken every weekday. Matthews said rising turnpike tolls and gas prices have prompted many to turn to public transportation.
So once again we see evidence that collectively our society is not only not choosing to prepare ourselves as the effects of peak oil on the economy continue to mount, but we are actually making counterproductive decisions which are making things even worse. If you want to know why I am so pessimistic that things will start to turn around before we hit the wall, look no further than this story as an all too common example pointing to the contrary.

Bonus: I've never seen a teevee ad extolling the virtues of public transportation, but if there ever was, they ought to use this song as the background music. It's a ready made commercial jingle if there ever was one


  1. The same thing just happened here in Ithaca NY... quite a hit to the budget actually.

    **Price is based solely on location of boarding, not the distance traveled. Single ride fares that originate in rural areas (Zone 2) will increase from $1.50 to $2.50, whether remaining in Zone 2 or traveling to Zone 1. The fare for a trip that originates in Zone 1 will remain at $1.50, whether traveling in either zone. Rural trips at $2.50 inbound and $1.50 outbound will result in $4 round trips, up from the current $3.**

    So the interesting development is that it now costs MORE to go INTO the cities than OUT of them....... what a bizarre approach. Interesting none the less.... so now it is $20/WEEK to get a year 9 into Ithaca....... from zone 2/rural... I am thinking that is going to make quite an effect.

    The idea of NOT encouraging the use of mass transport seems to make little sense. But then when does it ever? Sustainable transitional concepts seem to be BEYOND the mental midgets that make such appalling decisions.

    1. Argh, you are destroying my idyllic view of Ithaca. Seriously, I'm sorry to hear that. I would have figured that if any community in the country would "get it," Ithaca would.

      I guess there really is no hope.

  2. I can only hope that somewhere down the road there will be leaders who will acknowledge the obvious reality of peak oil and wisely divert money from other areas into public transportation.

    Having said that, we can't wait around for common sense actions. In the meantime, all citizens who can should probably restructure their lives so as to accomplish as much of their daily tasks as possible by walking or bicycling.

    Of course, that means for many the need to get into good physical shape, and perhaps moving to a more walkable neighborhood if that is possible.

  3. The stimulus spending allocation was so bizarre I can only conclude the process was utterly corrupt. Seeing so many perfectly serviceable roads get repaved while train service dwindles has been making me furious.

    Even before the crash, I had to hire a lawyer in an impoverished rural county of North Carolina. The brand new courthouse was palatial, with marble carvings and so forth - I called it the Taj Mahal. The only way it could have possible been funded was with federal "Homeland Security" money. Curiously, my lawyer's offices were in the same remote place, across the same parking lot, and the building was an architecturally identical copy of the courthouse...only smaller, but just as luxurious. It was furnished like the fanciest, most prestigious firms on Wall Street, including absolutely incredible flower arrangements.

    Your tax dollars at work.

    1. I was watching a home made Youtube video on Detroit the other day, the filmer was driving through some abandoned and trashed neighborhoods in the area of the old Packard plant.

      While observing the Baghdad level of devastation, he mentioned that there seemed to be new sidewalks and street improvements in this deserted neighborhood.

      My thoughts immediately jumped to the (unaccounted for) Stimulus money. Better sidewalks in an empty neighborhood=a better America.

      Priorities people, priorities! We don't need no public transit.


  4. This blog has a video - from Al Jazeera 2009! - of Detroit's abandoned train station.


    1. I visited Detroit a few years ago and was struck by just how beautiful many of the old buildings would be had they just been maintained. It's sickening.