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Study: T belt-tightening would hurt health

Pedestrians entered the Central Square MBTA station.
Pedestrians entered the Central Square MBTA station.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Proposals to cut MBTA service and raise fares could cost Boston area commuters hundreds of millions of additional dollars and produce potentially dire health consequences, according to a report being released Tuesday by a regional planning group.

The 20-page report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council found that proposed fare increases and service cuts to plug the T’s $161 million deficit would result in a surge of cars on the road, increasing pollution, crashes, and obesity, among other harsh impacts on residents’ quality of life.

“Decisions that we make about land use and transportation have a direct impact on how healthy our society is,’’ said Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which provides planning assistance on land use and transportation issues to cities and towns throughout the region.


The report, conducted with researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Boston University School of Public Health, estimated costs in additional traffic, fuel, hospital visits, and emissions at between $272 million and $386 million, depending on how much the T raises fares and cuts services.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has proposed two scenarios that would raise most fares and monthly passes an average of 35 to 43 percent while also making deep cuts to service.

State planners have estimated the changes would discourage 34 million to 64 million transit trips a year.

T officials will decide what to do in coming weeks. The changes are scheduled to take effect on July 1.

The report, whose authors based their assessment on transportation models from the state’s Central Transportation Planning Staff and data from other scientific studies, estimates 10 to 15 people a year are likely to die as a result of the cuts in service.

“These are conservative estimates that only account for automobile accidents, the loss of routine physical activity performed by transit users to reach bus and T service each day, and the health effects of several well-studied air pollutants,’’ the authors wrote in the report.


Jonathan R. Davis, the T’s acting general manager, said he appreciated the report, noting that the authority is reluctant to make the cuts but has few other options.

T officials are required by law to balance their budget.

“It pretty much confirms the analysis that we did and some of the impacts that these proposals would have either on the environment, the economy, or people’s mobility options,’’ he said.

Monday night was the 31st and final public hearing on the proposed fare increases and service cuts. Davis said he has heard from thousands of riders over the past two months, nearly all of whom opposed the proposals.

“We’re working very hard to come up with a recommendation that could minimize the amount of the fare increase and service cuts that we would have to implement,’’ he said. “But we’re not there yet.’’

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.