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MBTA protesters call for low-income fare

Protesters filled an MBTA board meeting to call for a reduced fare for low-income riders.
Protesters filled an MBTA board meeting to call for a reduced fare for low-income riders. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

With such chants as “What do we want? Fair fares!” and signs that read “Fares Going Up, Service Going Down,” dozens of supporters of a low-income T fare protested outside the Department of Transportation Monday.

Community Labor United and the Green Justice Coalition, two advocacy groups, called on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to create a low-income fare similar to the youth pass, which costs $30 per month for middle- and high school students who attend participating schools.

The organizers’ proposed low-income fare would apply to those who are registered in a public benefit program and include people who are at 300 percent of the federal poverty line or below, which organizers said equates to about $64,000 in annual income for a family of three.

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Additionally, the proposal would automatically enroll “trusted community groups and job programs” that have members who are paid lower salaries, such as BEST Hospitality Training and other pre-apprenticeship programs.

Nicole Rodriguez, a senior researcher for Community Labor United, said public transit is a “lifeline” for low-income people.

“A low-income fare would make the system more affordable and viable for low-income households, encouraging ridership of the MBTA, and ultimately transform the MBTA into a pathway to opportunity, not the obstacle it currently is for low-income people,” said Rodriguez.

Greater Boston Labor Council executive secretary treasurer Richard Rogers also called for a low-income fare, calling it “a matter of economic justice.”

“It’s wonderful to be standing with all these young people, but I’m here today to call out for economic justice for modest and low-paid workers,” said Rogers.

The calls for the low-income fare come amid a period of turmoil for the MBTA. In June, a derailment on the Red Line destroyed bungalows of plywood that house equipment controlling switches and signals on the tracks, resulting in significant delays that have persisted for weeks. Earlier this month, the agency raised fares 6 percent.

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“We need them to roll back the increase and create just the kind of system they did for youth riders,” Rogers said.

Sarah Levy, an organizer for social and enviromnmental justice organization GreenRoots, said low-income individuals are particularly hurt by delays and higher fares.

“People in our communities are really suffering not just from the terrible service, but also with the increasing fares, people are increasingly having to make choices between food and transportation," said Levy. “What we’re asking for here at this rally is not only better service, but we’re also asking for some immediate relief to some of the most transit-dependent folks.”

On Monday, MBTA general manager Steve Poftak said the agency expects damaged signals on the Red Line to be fixed by Aug. 15, which would improve Red Line service by an estimated 5 minutes.

The rally preceeded a meeting of state transportation officials, at which Monica Tibbits-Nutt, vice chair of the MBTA’s fiscal control board, called for a feasibility study to look at a reduced-fare program, which Chairman Joseph Aiello said he supported as well.

“You are being heard and you are being seen,” Tibbits-Nutt said.


Aidan Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AidanRyanNH.