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Foes rise against MBTA cutbacks

Proposals would end water routes

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A Hingham-bound ferry departs Rowes Wharf.

It’s no accident that after the head of the MBTA rides the boat to Hingham this week, he’ll drive to Hull to catch the ferry back to Boston.

Ferry advocates want the MBTA’s Jonathan R. Davis to see for himself just how long that drive is. They hope when he realizes it takes about the same amount of time - roughly 25 minutes - to get by land to the dock in Hull as it does to get back to the city by water, he’ll reconsider his proposal to kill the commuter boat service.

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“He’ll see that you can probably swim faster than with what [he’s] left us for transportation if these Draconian cuts go through,’’ said state Representative Garrett Bradley, who helped engineer Davis’s itinerary, scheduled for Friday morning.

It’s been less than a month since the MBTA presented two proposals for fare increases and service cuts aimed at stanching a $161 million budget deficit. Both plans include elimination of all commuter boat service in Hingham, Hull, and Quincy, as well as cuts in local bus and commuter rail across the region. The cuts would leave Hull without any public transportation, and reduce bus service from Dedham to Weymouth to Walpole.

Commuters have turned out in droves to vent opposition to fare hikes and service reductions at hearings in Boston, Newton, and Worcester.

Selectmen in Dedham are drafting a letter expressing their concerns, particularly about the MBTA’s plan to withdraw its funding for a bus that’s used by many senior citizens in town, said Town Administrator William Keegan. And there’s worry that the MBTA will follow through on the threat to reduce commuter rail service and raise fares by 40 percent, he said.

On the South Shore, transit supporters have organized a grass-roots movement that rivals many political campaigns.

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A hastily called meeting in Hull drew more than 300 people intent on saving the ferries and other local public transit. The resulting strategy includes bombarding the MBTA with letters and petitions - signed by more than 3,000 people at latest count - gathered both online and on the ground and sea.

There’s a website (savethehullferry.com) and a Facebook page (Save the MBTA Commuter Boat). Both are packed with information on the T’s cost-cutting proposals and how to defeat them, with links to petitions and surveys.

The website includes analysis of the effect of water transportation services on the local and regional economy, as well as counterproposals for refloating the MBTA’s sinking finances. Gas tax increases, Massport money, and reopening the MBTA’s contracts with the private ferry operators are among the suggestions.

Then there are the testimonials from loyal ferry riders, many of whom said they moved to the area because of the commuter boats, rely on them to get to work, and would drive if forced to live without a ferry. Others said they’d be plain stuck.

“I have a medical condition which makes me unable to drive into the city,’’ one person wrote online. “The ferry has helped me in infinite ways get to and from my job, as well as to many events in Boston. Please understand how drastically this decision could affect so many residents of Hingham, Hull, and Quincy, and consider an alternate solution. Don’t remove this wonderful service from the lives of the people in our town!’’

“Living in the South End with no car, we frequently rely on the commuter boat to visit family in Hull,’’ wrote Jason McCann. “The ferry is a service not just for commuters, but for anyone who wants to see and enjoy the great town of Hull.’’

Another part of the strategy is to dispel the notion that only the affluent take the commuter boats, which carry about 350,000 riders annually, said Bradley, a Hingham Democrat who represents Cohasset, Hingham, Hull, and part of Scituate. The website points out, for example, that Hull is one of the poorest communities south of Boston, with a median household income of $52,377 - compared with $74,200 for Boston’s metropolitan region.

“There’s a misconception’’ about the boat commuters, Bradley said. “This isn’t just people sitting back sipping champagne. These are hard-working people who are watching every dollar, and ride the commuter boat because it’s cheaper than driving.

“And it’s not just [people in] Hull,’’ he added. “Folks are hurting every day. To lay this off on communities that some perceive to be more affluent is unfair. Not a day goes by that somebody calls from all my towns looking for assistance.’’

Bradley, who is working with state Senator Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican, and US Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from Boston, as well as local officials and residents to save the commuter service, also is stressing that eliminating the commuter boat would waste state and federal money.

The state spent more than $2 million to help develop the Hingham Shipyard into residences and businesses because its proximity to the commuter dock made it “green’’ and mass-transit-friendly, he said. The federal government gave $7.4 million to develop an intermodal center at the shipyard - a new waiting area and terminal for the boat, as well as state offices.

The federal government also recently awarded $550,000 to improve Pemberton Pier in Hull for the commuter boat, and the town contributed $220,000, Bradley said.

“We are moving on many fronts on this,’’ he said. “We’re not going to leave any stone unturned.’’

While the focus is on saving the boats, organizers also worry about the potential reductions in rail and bus services - including in Hull where the only bus route is in jeopardy.

Joan Meschino, a former town selectwoman, said the Hull peninsula would be cut off entirely without the ferry and bus.

“I just hope people in other communities, that don’t have trains or buses or ferries being cut, will realize that the cuts really do affect transportation regionally,’’ she said. “If you put cars back on the road, you’ll see a dramatic uptick in congestion, and that affects everybody.’’

The MBTA will hold public hearings on its cost-cutting proposals on Feb. 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Hingham Town Hall, 210 Central St.; Feb. 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Thomas Crane Public Library, 40 Washington St., Quincy; and March 7 at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Middle School, 81 Central Ave., Hull.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.

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