Pics & Dispatch: Mass April 4th Protests Against MBTA Service Cuts - Morning Edition

As one elderly Red Line rider explained at today's public MBTA hearing at the Mass Transportation Building: the fight for rider's rights isn't a new one. The commonwealth has been down these tracks before, and the past few months have been no exception. As generally happens when lifelines get cut, the latest war over transit has evolved into a mass endeavor.

On several occasions since February, hundreds of middle school and high school students have rallied through downtown, demanding that their cries be heard by board officials. At the same time, everyone from seniors to college students have brought their message to meeting after meeting, hearing after hearing, all across the commonwealth.

About 21 young people slept on the Statehouse steps last night. Before and after, they rallied against fare hikes and service cuts, and were joined by more than 100 supporters as they spoke loudly about the barriers they face with transit each day. Indeed, a 2009 survey of 1600 area young people – conducted by the Youth Way on the MBTA – showed that 27 percent of students “can't afford to go to school.”

“It's a crisis of affordability,” says David Jenkins of the T Riders Union (TRU). Jenkins says that no matter what comes of today's vote – on raising bus and train fares 25 and 30 cents, respectively – his squad and those aligned with them will not step off. “Five-hundred teens don't march to the Statehouse and call it quits,” he continues. “The story that they're trying to hide is that these cuts would be crushing to the most vulnerable, and we won't let that happen.”

His isn't the only crew that won't back down. This week's protests have so far attracted the full gamut of consumer advocacy and justice-minded crusaders, from the Somerville Community Corporation, to the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project (REEP), to City Life and MassUniting, to Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACT), and Mass Senior Action, the latter of which brought some of the most pointed criticisms to this afternoon's hearing, the most notable of which was, “YOU'RE STILL NOT LISTENING TO US!”

Though cuts and hikes seem to be today's gripes du jour, this fight isn't merely about fares and service. It's about how Mass got to this point; it's about the MBTA screwing riders in order to pay off reprehensible lending institutions. A meeting in Dorchester last week – organized by both Occupy MBTA and TRU – shed light on a number of MBTA talking points that warrant more attention. There are serious disparity issues; why, for example, are there heated bench shelters in Brookline, but none in the much more heavily trafficked Dudley? Furthermore, there hasn't been nearly enough consideration of how the ongoing Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) quagmire plays into all of this.

As I'm filing this post, it appears that the board only got to hear from about 70 percent of those who wished to testify. People are outraged as a result, but it's not the end. As noted above, voting members weren't listening anyway, and no matter what they decide, the Statehouse is about to get swarmed. I don't know exactly what's about to go down – other than that a benevolent but aggravated mob will rush Beacon Hill. With that said, Noah McKenna of Occupy MBTA offered a trustworthy forecast at last week's preparation meeting in Dorchester: once the forces are inside, “it's going to be hard to get [them] out of there.”

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