Friday, January 27, 2012

Salem Meeting on Commuter Rail Increases Gets Heated


Residents gather Jan. 25th in Salem to hear from MBTA officials. (Photo by Kate Goodale)
By Kate Goodale
Gordon College News Service
January 26, 2012

SALEM, MA – Shawnora Weddles, 36, of Danvers relies on the T or bus to get from Salem to her job in Boston every day. She is a single mother of three daughters ages 9, 12, and 13 who frequently use the bus to meet her in Boston at work. But proposals to increase charges for commuters like her on the North Shore might change that.

Weddle’s story was one of many heard during Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) meeting on January 25th. Salem’s City Hall Annex was overwhelmed with attendees Wednesday night for the MBTA forum meeting. The turnout spilled over into a second conference room across the hall, causing MBTA representatives to hold two separate simultaneous sessions.

The meetings began with an overview of the service change proposals. The first scenario increases fares by 43 percent. The second increases fares by 35 percent, but cuts more services.

“We’d prefer not to do anything like this,” said Charles Planck, senior director of strategic initiatives at MBTA. “But we have to act.” The MBTA cannot financially support the current level of services with a projected deficit of $185 million dollars, according to Planck.



“I’ve given thousands of dollars of my hard-earned money to the MBTA for my monthly pass and I see no appreciation for that,” Weddles said. “In both scenarios the 465 bus [from Salem to Boston] gets cut and that’s cutting my lifeline. They need to go back and find a more reasonable scenario.”

Time was allotted for a question and answer time as well as testimonies from local citizens. Most in attendance said that the potential increase in fares affects the most vulnerable parties. Many students, elderly, and members of the disabled community who rely on the MBTA services would be at a loss. Representatives from Newburyport, Rockport and Boston shared concerns of a loss in tourism revenue.

“This was a looming problem and it is not the best day in our career either,” Richard Davey, Secretary and CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, told the crowd. “But we will take this head on.”

Further meetings on the proposed changes will be held throughout the coming months of February and March in and surrounding Boston. This was the only meeting on the North Shore. However, comments can be submitted electronically at the MBTA website,  or by emailing fareproposale@mbta.com. Changes could be in effect as soon as July 2012.


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