Lawmakers urge T to rethink austere measures

Nov 19, 2020 by

Published November 20, 2020

MELROSE — The city’s Beacon Hill delegation has expressed their displeasure with a plan by the MBTA to severely cut services to handle a serious budget deficit.

State Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian and state Sen. Jason Lewis wrote to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak on Friday, November 13:

“We write to express our deep concern and strong opposition to the service reductions and eliminations proposed for the City of Melrose in the MBTA’s Forging Ahead plan, specifically the closure of the Cedar Park commuter rail station and the elimination of bus routes 131 and 136. Taken in whole, a remarkable 10% of the commuter rail and bus routes identified for closure across the entire MBTA region (comprising 78 communities) target Melrose. While we understand that the global pandemic has caused a significant drop in public transit ridership and thus fare revenue for the MBTA, we firmly believe that these proposed cuts go entirely too far, are premature, and will inflict major, disproportionate harm on Melrose. We call on you to immediately shelve this plan or, at the very least, to significantly scale back these cuts.

“The ethos of Melrose is inextricably linked to its connection to and embrace of public transportation. Reliable, accessible, and affordable public transportation is critical to our residents, businesses, medical community, and local economic development. We are particularly concerned about the disproportionate impact that these cuts will have on lower-income residents, many of whom are essential workers; persons with disabilities; and small businesses.

“Despite the pandemic, many of our constituents still rely on public transportation to get to their jobs, school, medical appointments, and elsewhere. We have heard from multiple residents with disabilities for whom the commuter rail and bus routes continue to be their sole form of transportation. Our largest employer, MelroseWakefield Hospital, reports that a sizeable portion of its workforce still relies on the bus routes and commuter rail for commuting – as do many of the caregivers at our largest nursing homes – and that these routes are critical for lower-income patients accessing medical care and community resources based at and around the Hospital. Furthermore, we expect the economy to continue rebounding next year – particularly once a vaccine becomes available – and public transit ridership will start growing again just as these harmful cuts are implemented.

“Access to public transportation also is critical to Melrose’s years-long local economic development strategy, including its downtown and commercial district revitalization efforts, and its support for the production of badly needed affordable housing. In Melrose, small businesses including restaurants and service industry shops are anchored by their proximity to bus lines and rail stations; closure of these access points will further destabilize small business owners who continue to face challenges in the pandemic environment. Relatedly, the City of Melrose’s efforts to meet housing goals, during a regional housing shortage crisis, have been focused for years on encouraging more housing through forward-thinking zoning reforms that center on transit-oriented development. These efforts have been strongly encouraged by the Baker administration and pursued locally in good faith. They will be severely undermined if the MBTA proceeds with these cuts.

“Finally, use of public transportation is critical to our State’s strategy to combat climate change and meet ambitious goals established in state law. Mass transit is an essential strategic lever for reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality and public health, and reducing health disparities that disproportionately impact communities of color. Additional cars on the road will only exacerbate our pre-pandemic reality of grinding road congestion in the greater Boston region, by some metrics the worst in the nation.

“In sum, the MBTA’s proposed Forging Ahead plan threatens to leave Melrose behind, shuttering Cedar Park commuter rail station and eliminating two critical bus routes, the 131 and the 136. Of the 78 municipalities in the Greater Boston area served by the MBTA, 10% of the commuter-rail closures and bus line eliminations are proposed here.

“As you consider your proposed service cuts and capital project delays, we additionally question the timing of these actions. The state budget process for FY21 is currently underway; the FY22 budget process will kick off shortly; and there is a strong likelihood that in a post-election environment and with a new Biden administration, there may be additional federal relief funds for public transit agencies. To take drastic action now poorly serves our public and our communities who are working hard to rebuild and recover from the pandemic.

“Reducing service levels, closing stations, and shelving critical capital projects will have lasting negative impacts for residents and their families, local economic development and small businesses, housing production, and our efforts to fight climate change and improve public health.

“We reiterate again our strong conviction that the MBTA not move forward with this current plan.”

Sincerely,

Jason Lewis

State Senator 5th Middlesex

Kate Lipper-Garabedian

State Representative 32nd Middlesex

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