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.
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.