The costumed activists who bounded to the front of Tuesday’s MBTA finance meeting said they had the power to save the T. Maybe, but in their first act, they merely made the T board disappear.
Officials were preparing for the board’s last finance committee meeting before T management presents a final recommendation, expected later this week, on fare increases and service cuts needed to close a $160 million deficit for the coming year.
Then the self-styled Fast Five superheroes leapt forward, all tights and capes and brightly colored masks, providing their own sound effects (“Fast Five! Dunh-dunh-dunh-da!’’).
Facing the scores of activists and advocates in the room, they called for dismissal of the board behind them - for “failing to do their duties of protecting riders’’ - and began their own impromptu meeting, passing resolutions and calling on speakers, amid cheers of “Whose T?! Our T!’’
Rather than compete, the board quietly adjourned, six minutes and no agenda items down.
The caped crusaders, backs to the board, did not initially seem to notice the absence of the officials, continuing their cheers of “Up with the riders, yeah, yeah! Down with the debt, boom, boom!’’ Later, they assumed the high-back chairs at the vacated table, flexing and posing as other activists announced upcoming rallies or detailed the need to keep fares affordable for students, seniors, and the disabled.
Ferdinand Alvaro Jr., the board member who chairs the finance committee, said afterward that he was disappointed to lose the public forum.
But “I was informed by one of the folks who was standing out in front that they were not going to permit us to conduct the meeting,’’ he said. “Given that, we didn’t see any choice other than to adjourn.’’
The Fast Five, played by members of the T Riders Union, a group advocating for lower-income and transit-dependent riders, have been a staple of hearings and rallies for the past month, portraying five proposals for alleviating the MBTA’s fiscal 2013 deficit without harming riders.
Transportation officials have said they appreciate the ideas and are evaluating their legality and practicality, though some are beyond the power of the Department of Transportation, requiring legislative and gubernatorial intervention, or would need too much time to be incorporated before the board’s required vote on the budget by April 15.
The Fast Five said that is not enough. They want Beacon Hill to relieve the billions in debt the T was saddled with for construction of politically popular transit expansion. And they believe the board should refuse to vote on an MBTA budget until the debt is lifted.
“They’re acting like their hands are tied; we’re going to say no,’’ David Jenkins, of Alternatives for Community & Environment and the T Riders Union, explained after the meeting, suggesting a continued people’s filibuster.
He lifted his mask to see, but still wore his orange cape and briefs. “We’re determined to take a stand against any fare increase and service cut,’’ he said, “and anything that attacks riders.’’