Roberto Chavez has been living in Chelsea for 32 years, and he remembers when $180 could get him a three-bedroom apartment with heat included.
“Now you can’t even get a bedroom for $180,’’ said the 65-year-old.
Chavez is well aware of what his dollar can, or in most cases cannot, buy him. He and his wife, Marta, live on a fixed Social Security income of $640 a month, and each spend $20 a month for reduced-fare MBTA passes, their main mode of transportation. That is why the agency’s proposed fare hikes and service cuts beginning July 1 have Chavez worried not just about higher costs but about their quality of life.
“For us,’’ Chavez said of the proposals, “it would be dire.’’
To close a projected $161 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials unveiled two packages last month proposing raising subway fares by up to 70 cents, reducing or cutting bus routes, and eliminating ferry service and weekend commuter rail trains. One proposal eliminates fewer bus routes than the other, but would raise the cost of fares and passes by an average of 43 percent. The second proposal would yield most of its savings from eliminating many bus routes, while raising the cost of fares and passes by an average of 35 percent.
Reduced fares currently offered to senior citizens could increase by at least 50 percent under the proposals. The cost of using The Ride, a door-to-door service for disabled people, also would increase under both proposals.
Both proposals are particularly devastating for Chelsea because of the city’s large low-income population, including seniors, as well as the proposed elimination of bus Route 112 in one of the proposals, said Jovanna Garcia Soto, an organizer for the nonprofit Chelsea Collaborative.
“The 112 goes to Market Basket, Soldiers’ Home, and it’s the only one that goes to Admiral’s Hill, and there are many seniors that depend on it,’’ Garcia Soto said. “None of the plans work for us.’’
Admiral’s Hill is home to assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and a number of low-income and elderly housing units.
According to the latest MBTA ridership numbers, Route 112 served an average of 1,213 riders on weekdays; 672 on Saturdays; and 379 on Sundays in 2010.
The route runs from Wellington Station in Medford on the T’s Orange Line to a portion of Broadway in Everett before making its way through parts of Chelsea, then ending its run at the T’s Wood Island stop on the Blue Line in East Boston. Its route also includes the Soldiers’ Home health care facility for veterans, many of whom are disabled and elderly, said Dan Cortell, vice president of the Chelsea City Council, who also represents that area of the city.
“In a way, it’s such a critical bus to Chelsea, it’s hard to imagine it’s even being talked about,’’ Cortell said. “Because of the demographics in Chelsea, we shoulder the burdens most often. We have trucking, LNG tankers, the produce center, heavy and light industry in a very, very densely populated area that’s about 2 miles by 2 miles. . . . It’s not Newton, it’s not Wellesley. In Chelsea, it’s just too easy to do it to.’’
Chavez said he and his wife take the 112 up to four times a week for trips to the supermarket, doctors’ appointments, and other errands. Whether the MBTA eliminates the 112 route or hikes the cost of his monthly pass, Chavez said, he and his wife will have to make tough decisions.
“It’s like drawing blood from an anemic person and just waiting for them to die,’’ he said. “If they cut the route, they would be creating a very problematic situation for us, the residents of Chelsea.’’
Melinda Vega, 23, a student at Bunker Hill Community College, said she relies on other buses to get to school, because she doesn’t have a car, and takes the 112 often to visit a friend who lives in Admiral’s Hill. Even though her friend has a car, they’re both environmentally conscious and prefer to take the bus to the supermarket. Although she’s concerned about a fare hike, Vega, a former Chelsea School Committee member, said she is most concerned for the city’s elderly.
“At Admiral’s Hill, that’s the only transportation for many people,’’ she said. “It’s crazy that they’re even considering it. I think it’s inhumane.’’
But even if any of the proposals were to be approved, it still wouldn’t address the root of the MBTA’s fiscal problems, Vega said. She was among the 100 or so people who attended a hearing organized by the T in Chelsea last month - one of about 20 the agency has scheduled throughout Boston and surrounding suburbs - to discuss the proposals.
It was there that many people heard directly from transportation officials about the T’s $5.5 billion debt, with about $1.7 billion of it related to Big Dig costs.
A long-term solution to the T’s projected annual deficits must come from state legislators instead of from proposals like the ones being considered now, said Rene Mardones, community organizer for the T Riders Union, a public transit organization program run through the Roxbury nonprofit Alternatives for Community and Environment. But with a looming April 15 deadline for the MBTA to present a balanced budget, Mardones said, a more realistic solution that would give legislators time to hash out new, longer-term ideas is getting money from the State House, whether from the rainy day fund or, as Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey has suggested, from a roughly $20 million surplus in the state’s current snow-removal budget.
Mardones said it was shocking to see Route 112 on the list for potential route cuts, considering that the T Riders Union and the MBTA had been working on capital project ideas to improve service to that line.
“Now everything is on hold because of this proposal,’’ he said. “They have to find a solution that solves that problem, because otherwise we’re going to be in that same situation next year, or two years from now.’’