Public transportation is an important part of everyday life to millions of people across the country who rely on this system to get to work and school among other things. While public transportation is used by people of all races, it is used at a much higher rate by minorities than whites. In Massachusetts, the MBTA is facing financial difficulties and is exploring ways in which they can fix their current financial trouble. Currently they are proposing fare hikes and service cuts as a way to close the projected budget shortfall. While this may not be an issue for everyone, people who depend on this service to get around will feel the burden if the fare hikes are imposed. Unfortunately many of those who depend so heavily on this service are those from minority communities who can least afford these proposed hikes and service cuts.
For many years, highways took center stage in terms of overall transportation spending within the United States. A joint report by The Center for Community Change and The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University states that it wasn’t until the 1990s when the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act came into affect that changed the preference of funding from highways to urban transportation areas. This shift in funding is perhaps too late for transportation agencies facing budget problems. In Boston during the 1990s, one of the largest road construction projects in history took place in an effort to relieve traffic congestion in and around the city. Known as the Big Dig, The central Artery Project went billions of dollars in debt and spent large amounts of money on systems that support automobiles which favor those who are less reliant on public transportation. This focus on transportation systems that support automobiles and not public transit clearly demonstrates the use of government funding away from those most in need of it.
According to the MBTA Advisory Board, in 2000, Forward Funding Legislation re-shaped the MBTA and gave the agency 20% of state tax revenues. Along with this tax revenue, the state transferred 3.3 billion dollars of debt (including that of the Big Dig) from the state to the MBTA. Taking on this large amount of debt is one of the main reasons the agency is in financial trouble. Despite high ridership rates in recent years, the MBTA is still not operating on a solid financial footing. In fiscal year 2011 for example, the total revenues of approximately 1.613 billion and total expenses (including debt payments) of 1.613 billion left only a 12,000 dollar surplus and no money in the Capital Maintenance Fund. Proposed fare hikes and service cuts are seriously being considered in an effort to close the projected budget in the coming year.
Both the emphasis on transportation systems that favor the automobile and mismanagement of budgets have lead to the predicament that the MBTA is currently facing. This predicament is going to be unfairly put on the shoulders of those who can least afford it, disproportionately on minorities, if the MBTA goes through with the planned fare increases and service cuts.
In the face of these proposed fare increases and service cuts, many groups are acting to try and stop these measures. Many groups including the T Riders Union who “organizes public transit riders to build a unified voice and movement for better public transportation in Greater Boston” and Dorchester People for Peace, to name a few, are actively taking steps in opposition to these proposals from the MBTA. Handing out fliers, staging rallies, and community meetings are just some of the methods in which people are making an effort to resist these actions. The T Riders Union is also taking action at MBTA hearings that are being held in various communities throughout the state in conjunction with having T officials attend their own meetings.
Along with various groups that represent those who use the MBTA, elected officials are also making efforts to assist in the matter. State Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz and Jeffrey Sanchez are both against these proposals and are aencouraging their constituents to attend public hearings and speak out about the issues. According to State Senator Chang-Diaz , who represents some of the areas that would be hardest hit by these hikes, “Putting that cost on the back of people who are entirely dependent on public transit…is obviously wrong-headed.” Other ideas aimed at fixing the MBTA’s problems are being floated around by various groups such as gasoline taxes and federal aid which would shift the burden away from those who can least afford it.
While the proposed cuts have yet to be implemented by the MBTA, they have many people worried. Cuts to essential services that many poor and minority populations rely on is an unacceptable way to overcome budget shortfalls. Those who can least afford these cuts are the same people who are going to have to bear the brunt of them which only serves to further oppress those who are already disenfranchised.
Kane, Brian. “Born Broke,” MBTA Advisory Board, http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/Documents/Financials/Born_Broke.pdf
Ma, Jacinta S., Sanchez, Thomas W. and Stolz, Rich, MOVING TO EQUITY: Addressing Inequitable Effects of Transportation Policies on Minorities. A Joint Report of The Center for Community Change and The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/metro-and-regional-inequalities/transportation/moving-to-equity-addressing-inequitable-effects-of-transportation-policies-on-minorities/sanchez-moving-to-equity-transportation-policies.pdf
T Riders Union. http://www.ace-ej.org/tru