Nearly 400 Speak Out Against MBTA Cuts in Malden

Seniors, students and commuters all came out to make their voices heard.

Editor's note: Check out video highlights of speakers from Thursday night's meeting. 

No protesters interrupted the MBTA's twentieth public meeting on proposed cuts for next year's budget, though transportation officials still got an earful from angry commuters Thursday night.

137 speakers took to the podium on behalf of students, seniors, the handicapped, the ill and more, with a common message to MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis: these proposals are unacceptable.

Officials say a mixture of service cuts and fare hikes are necessary to close a $161 million deficit in next year's operating budget, with one proposed scenario closing as many as twelve bus lines in Malden - including routes many students use to get to Malden High School.

“I don't know what the answer is to the MBTA deficit, but I know in my heart it's not what's being proposed tonight,” Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said in his opening remarks. “...Our seniors, students, disabled riders and commuters...depend on public transportation every day.

Christenson was not alone – other officials present included State Sen. Katherine Clark and Melrose Mayor Richard Dolan, a number of city councilors and state representatives.

“This proposal has incredible negative impacts to the city of Melrose,” Dolan told the crowd, which numbered just under 400.


Commuters sound off

Everett resident Allen Ryba told officials he was a recovering alcoholic getting his life back in order – he reguarly attends AA meetings, has a new job and receives treatment at a facility to help stay sober.

Should the proposed cuts go through, Ryba said his treatment would abruptly stop. 

“That stuff is just essential to my recovery; it's like getting my life back,” he said after his remarks. "And it's the same thing for senior citizens and those with disabilities.”

Both Malden High School Principal Dana Brown and senior Anabette D'Entremont told those in attendance that service interruptions would adversely affect the city's student population.

“This would hurt us at Malden High school in many, many ways,” Brown told officials. “Grades, attendance – we're lowering our drop-out rate, raising our graduation rate - ...(many) kids are getting to school by way of MBTA...We can't afford to lose it in any way, shape or form.”

“We're talking about one fare turning into three fares,” Melrose resident Thomas Johnson said, describing the circuitous bus routes he'd be forced to take should the proposed cuts go forward. “I waited for years for an increase in my social security check – they should have just mailed the increase to you.”

“These are low income folks that don't have enough money for food, shelter or transportation,” advocate Bob Marra said. “They should not be asked to pay for this deficit at all.”

Malden resident and Haitian immigrant Nekita LaMour, who waited nearly three hours to be the last of 137 speakers, said she stuck it out because she “wanted her voice to be heard.”

“I had to say what I had to say,” she said, adding she was “holding out hope” the proposed cuts do not become reality. “It's still very early.”

Some residents came forward with ideas to increase revenue for the agency, including reaching out to Boston-area sports teams, forcing commuters to buy only monthly passes and raising the gas tax.


Officials respond

Approached after the meeting, Davis said he was “ecstatic” about the turn-out.

“It's been much larger than I thought it would be, and much larger than it has been in the past,” he said. “I think it's great to hear from all of our customers and citizens who are concerned about the proposals, to give us thoughts and ideas, take time out of their busy schedules and talk to us.”

He added that all proposals are “on the table” and that the feedback officials have heard from over 1,000 residents in the Greater Boston area will factor into their final recommendations.

“We still have the stark reality of this $161 million deficit we have to close,” he said. “We're working with (Transportation) Secretary (Richard Davey) and others to find one time revenue opportunities or additional cost-savings to help mitigate fare increases or service reductions.”

He added that he had reviewed suggestions proposed by the MBTA advisory board, who said their plan would retain all existing services while raising fares by about 25 per cent.

“I want to thank the advisory board for a thoughtful report and some interesting suggestions,” he said. “I'm meeting with the executive director to go through (the proposal), and see what we may or may not be able to incorporate.”

“I am pleased we were able to get everyone who wanted to speak the chance to do so,” Christenson said after the meeting, noting the meeting went over an hour past schedule.

An overflow crowd of about 80 residents watched the meeting outside of the mayor's office.

“I'm pleased with what I heard tonight...we have to find a solution,” he said. “Malden prides itself on public transportation - without it, I don't know where to go from there.

"We've been building this theme for decades now, and we're finally at a point – I think you heard tonight – where a lot of people are because of the public transportation.

“We have to find a way,” he said, adding his office was working with legislators and transportation officials to broker a solution.


By the numbers:

*This was the MBTA's 20th public meeting about proposed cuts and fare increases for public transit.

*Just under 400 were in attendance for Malden's meeting, with about 80 in an overflow room outside of the mayor's office.

*137 speakers took to the podium, in multiple languages - including sign. 

*Over 500 residents signed a petition against the cuts organized by Mayor Gary Christenson

*Over 4,300 residents throughout Greater Boston have attended these meetings, with 1,411 making public comments.

*The MBTA's fiscal year 2013 budget deficit totals $161 million. Its overall debt – a bulk of which was conferred onto the agency from the Big Dig – is nearly $9 billion.

MatthewKWitt February 17, 2012 at 10:50 AM
When my husband and I planned for an early retirement we were both in our 50's. Not only were we retiring, but we were moving to Nashville, TN. Since we resigned from our jobs, we knew we would have to buy health insurance and dental insurance in Tennessee. We purchased a PPO family plan, for just my husband and me, through "Penny Medical" . We paid for the family plan ourselves, initially, the cost was a little less than $400 a month for both of us. Our co-pay was very reasonable at $25 each per office visit.
Kelly Ilebode February 17, 2012 at 02:35 PM
I watched some of the live stream and not to be a downer (Maybe it is my current mood) but do you really think it made a difference?
AnnieOMalden February 17, 2012 at 06:17 PM
The T is following the pattern of many cities including Malden--cut services instead of streamlining and cutting the overhead and creating opportunities to make more money. There is a real need to run the trains and buses later until 3am to accommodate those who drive into the city because the service quits at "about" 12:30am. How much air pollution do we create by driving everywhere because the T does not offer adequate service? With the cost of gas, more people would use the T if it was available to them. We have a robust night life in Boston which is supported by those who don't live there. Between workers and patrons there is a community that is not serviced or barely serviced. I wonder how many drunk drivers would have a chance to sober up or not drive at all if they could depend upon the T to get them home. I am not suggesting the T would then have to deal with a train/bus full of drunks but they (and the rest of us!) would be safer there than on the road. The T could charge an extra .50 to take this after hours ride. Many people could get a job if they could get there without having to have a car. We need more service, not less. The T is in place to serve US. Again the tail is wagging the dog. I am sure there are many people employed by the T who are way more intelligent than me who could figure out some better way to save this mess.
Raj February 19, 2012 at 06:34 PM
These "cuts" in service are akin to the yearly cry from officials that teachers will have to be cut... Its just "scare tactics" to make increase in taxes or in this case fare hikes will seem to be the lesser of two evils. It is there way of having the public say they are willing to pay more in lieu of cuts. Mark my words, we'll end up with few cuts in service and about 40% more in fare costs by the time this is done! Meanwhile, nothing will be done about the poorly executed planning that has 3 MBTA buses within seconds of each other going up the same route on Salem Street each morning!
Marc Levine February 20, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Love seeing the empty buses going up and down some streets.
Gael McCarte April 15, 2012 at 02:18 PM
When the bottom line is, "we have a deficit" that deficit has to be covered. Saying those who use it don't deserve to have to pay more to use it means some one else who never uses it, but who is in the same economic downturn as those who do use it have to pay? The entire system needs to be reviewed? Can vans rather than buses be used on little used routes? What is the back up medi-ride system that can replace a huge bus carrying one person to medical care? There has to be an "all of the above" approach. To treat present routes as a sacred cow that those who use it "deserve" does not progress the discourse.


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