More than 400 public transit riders blasted the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s proposed rate hikes and service cuts last night in Boston, insisting that the measures would harm the poor, the elderly and the disabled, and students.
“How much do you expect the poor to pay?’’ said Jane D’Angelo, 47, during a public hearing hosted by the MBTA on the proposed changes at the Boston Public Library’s central library in Copley Square.
She was one of dozens of T riders who stepped up to the microphones to blast the proposal, drawing applause and shouts of approval from a crowd that filled a library auditorium and spilled into the lobby.
Under terms of the proposal, the T would raise subway fares by up to 70 cents and dramatically cut bus routes, eliminate ferries, and end weekend commuter-rail trains, among other changes. The plan was unveiled last month to help erase a projected $161 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning in July.
MBTA officials have stressed that details could change after a string of public hearings scheduled between now and mid-March. But that was small comfort to many in attendance last night, who broke into loud chants before the public comment period, including “Stand Up, Fight Back.’’
John Robinson, 63, of Somerville, protested the proposed cuts at a rally outside the library before the meeting.
Robinson, who does not drive because he is vision-imparied, said losing weekend service on the commuter rail would make it difficult to visit his father at his assisted-living facility in West Concord. “That’s cruel,’’ he said.
Denysha Jackson, 18, of Roslindale, a student at Fenway High School, said during the rally that she relies on the subway to get to class, as do many other students, and the proposed fare hikes would hurt. “I take the train every day, everywhere,’’ she said.
During the hearing, many attendees heckled Mark Boyle, assistant general manager for development at the MBTA, and booed as he laid out the grim financial picture facing the agency.
The antics drew condemnation from Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, who testified against the proposed changes but first told the protesters, “You want to make noise, go outside.’’
He then launched into prepared remarks, arguing that the changes would harm the state’s most vulnerable residents and stifle economic growth.
“For many people, the T isn’t their first or second transportation choice; it’s their only choice,’’ he said.
Although some in attendance told MBTA officials they would be willing to pay slightly higher fares to stave off service cuts, many said the agency’s overall funding structure has to change.
“Relying on the sales tax is not a reliable way to fund the T,’’ said Diane Simpson, 57, of Jamaica Plain.
The MBTA is funded primarily by revenue from the state sales tax and rider fares, state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey, said in a phone interview. Other revenue sources include advertising, leasing arrangements from MBTA real estate holdings, and federal grants, he said, adding that the riders’ passion was heartening.
“Our customers care; they’re passionate,’’ Davey said. “And I think they have a good understanding of what the real challenge is, which isn’t an annual [MBTA] management crisis. It’s really a crisis of the debt.’’
The MBTA has about $5.5 billion in outstanding principal on its debt, with approximately $1.7 billion from costs associated with the Big Dig, Davey said. He said long-term ideas for generating more revenue for the T could include a direct appropriation from the Legislature.
He also said that a roughly $20 million surplus in the state’s snow-removal budget could be transferred to the MBTA if the weather holds off.
The MBTA’s board of directors is scheduled to vote on the proposals in April.