Riders and workers rally to stop disproportionate fare increases
House Bill 4161 can help ease burden on PVTA riders and disabled MBTA riders
[BOSTON—June 12] Hundreds of transit riders and workers from across Massachusetts rallied at the State House today in favor of House Bill 4161 that provides funding to the MBTA and regional transit authorities (RTAs) to limit fare increases and service cuts slated for July 1. Members of the House will vote tomorrow on legislation aimed at addressing the current transit budget shortfalls. Ralliers told Legislators it is unconscionable to force the most vulnerable riders to pay the price for inadequate funding and that it’s time to take leadership and find solutions for the emergency facing our communities.
Riders from Fall River, New Bedford, Springfield and Boston called for amendments that address the disproportionate fare increases on seniors, youth and disabled riders, distributing RTA funding according to need, and implementing a sensible fare evasion policy that allows adequate time to pay fines and does not escalate to criminal charges.
“We need the Legislature to stop the attacks on people who depend on paratransit. Our fares are going up 100 to 150 percent which is five to seven times the ‘average’ hike. They know we can’t afford these increases,” said Ruth Chaiton of Massachusetts Senior Action Council (MSAC), who depends on THE RIDE. “I will have to stop volunteering at the nursing home after 12 years because I can’t afford it! It’s not right and the Legislature should intervene. We demand fair fares and service.”
In April, the MBTA approved disproportionate fare increases on seniors, students and disabled riders, with the most extreme increases on people who depend on THE RIDE. The MBTA acknowledges that cost savings actually come from people taking fewer trips (242,634 fewer trips per year) due to the cost, rather than the higher fare itself. For riders, this means fewer trips to the doctor, to community engagements, to work and to grocery shopping. The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) has also proposed raising the paratransit fare a greater percentage than other increases.
Supporters called for RTA funds to be distributed first to the PVTA to close its budget gap and then to remaining transit authorities.
“Springfield riders are also dealing with a 20 to 25 percent fare hike and the PVTA is trying to raise the transfer fee by nearly 300 percent. You can’t get anywhere without transferring buses,” said Alliance to Develop Power (ADP) leader Michael Hollis. “Our public transit system is broken—now the revenue crisis is being placed on the backs of riders, for a system that does not work for us.”
On the MBTA, organizers are concerned that the proposed fare evasion policy criminalizes low-income riders by failing to provide enough time to pay fines and escalating charges to a criminal complaint.
“This fare evasion policy essentially makes it a crime to be poor on public transit. Giving such limited time to pay exorbitant fines sets low-income riders up for serious charges,” said Rosa Mattias, T Riders Union (TRU) Chairperson. “Instead of skewering those who can least afford it, the governor and Legislature need to find comprehensive solutions that ensure public transportation is affordable to all of us in Massachusetts.”
In previous versions of the bill, the sale of MBTA ferry service to Massport would result in savings and revenues that could be used to address the disparities between the general MBTA fare increase and those affecting senior, youth and disabled riders. While this measure has been taken off the table, riders are still calling on elected officials to correct the imbalance.
Members of the statewide Green Justice Coalition campaign, Public Transit –Public Good: Riders, Workers, and Communities United for Transit Justice, followed the rally with a march to the State House to speak with Legislators on amendments to the bill.
“We’re committed to fighting for long-term and immediate solutions to fund public transit in the Commonwealth. We cannot cut this lifeline to our most vulnerable communities,” said Gary Pires, President of ATU local 1037. “Today, we’re asking the Legislature to ensure funding is secured this fiscal year to prevent disproportionate MBTA fare increases and allow Pioneer Valley and other regions across the state to receive urgently-needed funding.”
This event is sponsored by Massachusetts Senior Action Council (MSAC) and T Riders Union (TRU) program at Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), along with transit riders and workers in the Green Justice Coalition Public Transit–Public Good campaign. Coalition partners include statewide groups (Community Labor United, Massachusetts Communities Action Network, Massachusetts Senior Action Council) and groups from Boston (Alternatives for Community & Environment/T Riders Union, Carmen’s Union–Amalgamated Transit Union Local 589, Greater Four Corners Action coalition, On the Move), Fall River–New Bedford (Bus Riders United of Southeastern Massachusetts, Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 174 & 1037, Community Economic Development Corporation of Southeastern Massachusetts, Coalition Against Poverty/Coalition for Social Justice, Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Labor Council, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Labor Center), and Springfield (Alliance to Develop Power, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 448).