Chairman Aiello, Members of the Board, Acting Secretary Tesler, thank you for the opportunity to comment today.
Before testifying, I would like emphasize that A Better City and its members understand the daunting challenges the MBTA is facing as a result of the pandemic. We sincerely appreciate the Authority’s heroic efforts to keep service running for the frontline workers who depend on it. This gratitude is unwavering even when our testimony addresses contentious issues and our views do not align.
Our comments today focus on the MBTA operating budget for FY21 and beyond. As the T continues to monitor its financial position this fiscal year and looks ahead to FY22, A Better City calls on the T and this Board not to short-change riders. With over $1 billion in federal relief funds in hand, the full restoration of service and continued funding of critical capital projects should be maintained.
The MBTA is the Commonwealth’s connector to the urban core and bustling communities from Worcester to Lowell. Right now, it is a lifeline for essential trips by disproportionately low-income people who rely on the MBTA1. Post-pandemic, it will service as a vital resource to bring people back to the workplace. Interviews with our members show a large portion of offices are currently open with employees having the option to go in, and that the Medical and Office/Professional sectors, provided vaccine rollout and state planning allow, are predicting a return in July 2021.
A Better City is concerned that the cuts voted on in December 2020 will lead to a lag in service when demand returns this summer and fall. With no information available on the costs savings associated with the approved service cuts, there is no evidence to suggest that the benefits outweigh the potential negative impacts on riders and the economy.2 If the Authority is making cuts to save money, but it does not know how much it will save, what is the rationale for making the cuts?
The MBTA has money to deliver full service, now, and it should restore service as soon as possible. The Authority should also withdraw the recently submitted environmental notification form for Forging Ahead, which is no longer needed if full service is restored. And, it should put forward a budget that allows for service and fare products, including means-tested fares and flexible fare options, that expand access, make it easier and more affordable to ride the T, and prioritize investments that modernize and decarbonize our infrastructure.