Credit managers at the MBTA for listening to riders and communities served by the transit agency. But revised cost-cutting plans being finalized by the T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board, while responding to the voices of those most affected, still fall short when it comes to protecting vital lifelines that connect our region to the Boston economy.
The T’s stewards this week adopted sweeping cuts to bus, subway and commuter rail service needed to address a shortfall of more than $580 million in the fiscal year that begins next July. The plan is less ambitious than cuts the board initially considered. Instead of shutting down weekend service on all dozen commuter rail lines, for example, the T will continue to run limited trains on the five most used lines, including trains to Rockport and Newburyport.
That’s good news for the North Shore — though not all good, since the agency still plans to close the Prides Crossing station in North Beverly. However, it still leaves a large portion of the north of Boston region disconnected. Specifically, riders living in Haverhill and Lawrence, already limited to a half-dozen inbound trains on Saturdays and Sundays, will lose even that. Gone too will be reliable transit to jobs in the city and its immediate environs.
The agency, which is making other service cuts, such as operating fewer commuter trains on a more limited schedule from Monday through Friday, is in a bind. Without another infusion from the state or federal governments, it cannot operate at the same levels with a ridership that has significantly evaporated with the pandemic.
Despite MBTA promises to resume trains as ridership rebounds, it shouldn’t suspend weekend trains to much of the Merrimack Valley. Transit isn’t just convenience, it’s infrastructure. Those trains represent opportunity for nearly 112,000 working-age people, between Haverhill and Lawrence alone, to access jobs without having to drive a car or pay for parking.
Unions representing MBTA drivers and operators have warned the cuts, in their first iteration anyway, could squeeze out more than 800 jobs from the MBTA. Many more are sure to be affected as people can no longer access their work.
This cost-cutting proposal is still subject to analysis for environmental impact and its effect on minority communities. One would expect the latter to show in sharp relief the mistake the T is about to make by pressing forward with such sweeping changes.