Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Delays getting to the Lechmere stop on the green line are among the least of concerns with pending service cuts on the MBTA as painted by city officials and regional civic engineering experts. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The gloom has been gathering for weeks about proposed cuts to MBTA service, with students mustering their forces to prevent a proposed doubling of rates and city councillor Minka vanBeuzekom going so far as to suggest on Sunday that “we may have to ban further development until the T is back on stable footing.”

The cuts result from expectations that in the fiscal year starting in July, the T expects to be $160 million to $185 million in the red. The agency is looking at two scenarios to make back the money, and both charge more and offer less service.

A single T trip could rise to $3 from $2, while a monthly pass could jump to $80 from the current $59. A bus ride could cost $1.75 from the current $1.25, with a monthly pass potentially going to $55 from $40.

A summary of the changes prepared by the City Manager’s Office is particularly grim on what could happen to bus service throughout the city, with one scenario eliminating 10 of the 11 lines serving it. That scenario would cut up to 64 million public transit trips per year, or up to 17 percent. The T’s green line service would also be less frequent on weekends, making people wait longer to get to the Lechmere and NorthPoint areas in East Cambridge.

“That would really hurt everything going on in the North Point/Science Park area,” said Joseph Aiello, a write-in candidate for the Ward 1 Cambridge Democratic Committee, in a Facebook post. The neighborhoods’ “growth is only as good as the public transportation available. If these proposed cuts go through, all the planning around Cambridge — especially Kendall Square — could be for nothing.”

In addition, there are two developments planned for within blocks of the Alewife T stop that are intended to add some 1,000 residents to the city within the next couple of years.

“Reliable service in North Cambridge, the Alewife area and throughout the city and region are critical for continued development,” vanBeuzekom agreed.

Extent of the problem

There are more than 250 private-sector developments planned or proposed near subway and commuter rail stations throughout the system, which collectively would create 36,000 housing units and space for 92,000 permanent jobs, not to mention thousands of construction jobs, according to the Boston-based Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

“Uncertainty about the access of these projects to transit may discourage developers, banks, and companies from investing in these job-creating projects,” said the council’s communications manager Amanda Mantone Linehan, in a Feb. 7 statement.

As though to underline the development problems accompanying a slowdown in T and bus service, Cambridge Innovation Center Chief Executive Tim Rowe posted on Sunday about a Kendall Square Customer Intercept Survey summary prepared in December showing that 47 percent of commuters to that high-development area depended on the red line and another 4 percent on buses. Only 21 percent of people surveyed use a car to get to Kendall Square.

“These proposed service cuts and fare increases will financially burden today’s commuters, worsen traffic congestion, damage the environment and impede economic growth for years to come …This will reverse the recent positive trend of record high levels of ridership, and will result in less-efficient service and less revenue for the MBTA,” Linehan noted via the statement. In addition, carbon dioxide emissions alone will increase by some 50,000 tons per year, what the council cites as the equivalent of the carbon dioxide emitted annually by a small oil burning power plant.

As the council sees it:

Total daily auto miles traveled will increase by 431,000 miles under Scenario One and 626,000 miles under Scenario Two — the equivalent of 55,000 and 92,000 more cars on the road each day, respectively. That means more congestion, lost productivity for workers sitting in traffic, less time spent with families, and reduced access to jobs. Cuts to suburban bus service, commuter rail and ferries will have a particularly severe impact on traffic congestion along Interstate 93, Interstate 90, Route 1, Route 3 and Route 2 as many commuters shift from the train, suburban bus, and express bus services to the single occupancy vehicle.

Under both scenarios, many businesses that have access to transit will lose MBTA service. Under Scenario One, 4,400 businesses and 78,000 workers will lose all MBTA service; under Scenario Two, a staggering 340,000 workers will lose transit access to jobs at 27,000 businesses. Businesses will suffer as their workers’ commutes become more difficult, expensive and unpredictable.

Elimination of evening and weekend commuter rail will particularly affect some of our region’s major employers and attractions, such as hospitals, museums, theaters and restaurants.

The city manager’s report is to be discussed at tonight’s meeting of the City Council, which will likely rally a crowd for a 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 29 meeting with T officials at the Cambridge Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave., one of 24 such meetings the agency is holding throughout the region.