Officials Urge Residents To Respond To Potential Cuts In MBTA Train And Ferry Service To South Shore Towns
West Hingham commuter rail station [Hingham Current file photo / Kristen Arute]
"The main event tonight is the next agenda item," quipped Board of Selectmen Chair Mary Power at the start of last night's meeting, "and that is the discussion of proposed MBTA Hingham, ferry and Greenbush rail service cuts." Sen. Patrick O'Connor, Reps. Jamie Murphy and Joan Meschino, CEO of South Shore Chamber of Commerce Peter Forman and the town's representative to the MBTA David Alschuler were all in attendance to discuss the issue.
"Those of you who have been tuning in have known that the Board is working on letter to send to state," noted Power. "That's something that Joe (Fisher) is working on very diligently." The meeting was described as an opportunity to get input for Fisher's letter which will be discussed and voted on at their meeting on Thursday.
"I think the public needs to know where do matters stand now," said Fisher. "What's going on? What's the current proposal from the T? And what's the T's schedule for moving forward? What are the next steps. And the public and especially Hingham residents want to know how this going to affect the Town of Hingham. And then we all want to know what is the Board of Selectmen doing and what are we planning to do?"
Fisher outlined his agenda for addressing those questions:
"The first thing is a letter being sent to MassDOT, the MBTA and other government officials."
"It's important to hear what other towns are doing."
"Residents want to know what they can do to save the ferry, what they can do to save Greenbush."
"What resources are out there so people know where to turn to get additional information."
The MBTA is required to begin their budget discussions now and is attempting to find ways to save money and bring in revenue in an effort to close a budget deficit of $500M, plan for the next budget cycle and predict future cycles. As people slowly head back to work, ridership has begun to resume; however, it is nowhere near where it was prior to the pandemic. Supply does not meet demand. Before COVID, the Greenbush line during peak hours was at 98-104% capacity. It is now at 10-12%.
The T is going through a series of ridership scenarios looking at critical transit lines and communities to see where there could be potential savings in this current fiscal year. The most significant way is to make cuts to service. "They are thinking of doing this in a policy-structured way," noted Meschino. "I would argue that the policy rubric they're looking at is too narrow." She encouraged listeners to visit her website for more information and to sign up for her ferry newsletter.
"The proposed cuts are definitely real and are going to have to come from somewhere inside of the MBTA's budget," said O'Connor. "The decline in ridership has led to major reductions in the amount of fares that the MBTA are taking in. There will be a cliff that the MBTA will go off of, and there will be a deficit."
In response to the threat, Meschino said that she has been working with communities to write letters, reach out to business partners and reach out to the environmental community "to address what the public health issues are, our carbon emission reduction goals, our social justice and our congestion and transit goals."
Meschino, who is a ferry rider herself, went on to describe efforts made in Hull to save the ferry and noted that one of the criteria the MBTA is using to make their determination is "critical transit."
"We are looking to counter the false narrative that it is luxury transit," said Meschino, "and try to put a face on who the ridership is."
The State invested $574M to get the Greenbush line up and running just 15 years ago. However, Greenbush and the ferry fall into what's known as "the fourth quadrant," which means they could see deep cuts or possible elimination altogether. "This is a real scenario," said Meschino. "This isn't bluster." The MBTA will present the rubric they intend to use make recommendations to the Fiscal Management Control Board on November 9th.
"We need to preserve service," said O'Connor. "It's always going to be easier to scale back up from something that's in existence right now rather than if they take Greenbush and the ferry offline. That may be a death blow to both of those modes of transportation. We absolutely cannot allow that to happen."