Friday, April 12, 2024

Protesters lead chants Wednesday at a lunchtime rally against proposed MBTA cuts held at Boston’s Transportation Building. (Photo: Marc Levy)

I was disappointed in, and resentful of, the lunchtime “flash mob” protesting MBTA cuts Wednesday at Boston’s Transportation Building. I went for a while, gritting my teeth — I wanted to be counted as opposing the possible service cuts and price hikes, but was irritated that the protest was necessary.

Cutting service while raising prices is a bad idea anywhere, at any time, in any field. Netflix stock, for instance, is down about 65 percent from what it was worth in July, when the company announced it’d be splitting its DVD and streaming services and charging for each what it had been charging for both. Since then it’s lost a lot of content and decided to get rid of even more.

Doing that with the mass transit system that powers the region’s economic growth and energizes neighborhoods (remember Somerville’s Davis Square before the red line came in?) is suicidal — certainly far beyond sad in a city that had the first subway system in America. The subway began rolling at 6 a.m., Sept. 1, 1897, and has grown to include four lines and uncountable (by me) buses, ferries, vans and commuter rail lines, as well as an insane amount of debt, including much unearned debt thrust upon it as a convenience.

At this point, after hearing thousands of people making complaints, threats and suggestions during a 30-stop listening tour, it is likely Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority executives have a sense of what they must do, and unless they are utterly corrupt or hopelessly stupid they know it isn’t going the Netflix route.

Or, to take an example closer to home: I arrived at my first year at Emerson College in Boston just as its president was on the way out, likely pushed out because of an idiotic plan he was championing to move the school from the lovely and lively Back Bay and Beacon Hill to the crime-ridden, flood-prone hills of Lawrence, Mass., some 29 miles to the north. (Emerson moved instead to the other side of Boston Common and into the Theatre District.) This seemed odd to someone who’d chosen Emerson based on the fact it was in Boston, and even odder when I found it to be also a major factor in the choice of schools made by every other student. The college still boasts that it’s “in the heart of Boston,” rather than “40 minutes’ drive from the heart of Boston.”

There were Emerson College student journalists prowling among the hundred or so people at the Wednesday protest, looking for their own, but were also disappointed to find it was “just a lot of old people” — and the disabled, poor and ethnic minorities. A bummer, in short, but these are the kinds of people who need public transportation the most.

Still, let’s not be dumb about it.

The two things I saw at the rally that uninspired me the most:

“Revolution!” One guy kept calling this out as the protest gathered and progressed. This rote invocation of revolt was at the very least out of scale with the tenor and size of the protest, and premature as well. Revolution comes after entreaties for accommodation and compromise have been rejected, and we ain’t there yet. I’m also trying to be polite about this when what I really want to do — and did — was roll my eyes. Revolution? Really? In reaction to a misguided and desperate trial balloon floated by a recently hired executive in the cause of filling a massive and  painfully unfortunate systemic budget deficit? Try working that into a slogan, man. But unless what was meant was “Revolutionize our agency’s debt service mechanism!” the word sounds foolish.

“Transportation is a right!” This was on a sign being held up at the rally. But that doesn’t make it correct, and I doubt very much that a “right to transportation” can be found in any official federal, state or local code or manifesto. Public transportation is environmentally sound and, so far as I can tell, a 100 percent good idea and excellent foundation for municipal and economic growth. But at this point “The Right to Safety” is a book (American Planning Association, 2008), not an actual right enshrined in, say, the U.S. Constitution.

What transportation is, though, is absolutely vital to the region and its residents, and, again, suicidal to dismantle thoughtlessly. It’d be like taking a body’s veins, arteries and entire circulatory system and moving it 40 minutes’ drive from the heart.