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Proposed MBTA cuts threaten Brandeis access to Boston

Published: January 25, 2012
Section: Featured


MBTA fare hikes and service reductions announced earlier this month would eliminate Fitchburg commuter rail service from Brandeis on weekends and after 10 p.m. on weekdays while increasing fares by as much as $2.25 per ride.

The cuts would leave the free Boston/Cambridge Shuttle Service—which runs strictly when classes are in session—as the only campus-accessible public transportation option for weekend travel to Boston.

Administrators have raised concerns over the proposal with local State Representative John Lawn, according to Andrew Gully, senior vice president for communications. Despite the considerable hardships that could result, the administration has not yet reached out to students or indicated whether or not it will elevate its opposition to the changes as a high priority issue.

Announced as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) seeks to close a projected FY2013 budget gap of $161 million, the commuter rail cuts would accompany service reductions, including the threatened elimination of local Waltham bus routes 505, 553, 554, 556, 558 and 70A under one of two proposals that have been submitted for public scrutiny. Charlie Card fares on the T could rise as much as $0.70.

For Brandeis, which promotes its nine-mile proximity to Boston, the proposed cuts could limit weekend travel and would make access to Logan Airport more arduous in terms of time and cost. Travel to North Station—currently possible in less than 30 minutes by commuter rail—would take nearly double the time both from Riverside and from Harvard Square with a transfer from the Cambridge Shuttle.

The MBTA cuts were announced on the tail of student-driven proposals to increase campus transportation options. Last semester, the Student Union ran a test Riverside shuttle service but found insufficient demand to continue the program.

Student Union President Herbie Rosen ’12 explained that reinstating the Riverside Shuttle might be a last resort if the commuter rail service is eliminated. “It would just hurt us because it’s more money being spent,” he said. That’s “not an avenue we want to go down.”

Rosen reached out to students by e-mail on Thursday with information about the cuts and upcoming MBTA town hall meetings. “We don’t want the fees to increase,” Rosen told The Hoot. Rosen also indicated that administrators had not yet discussed the matter with the Union.

Both Rosen and Gully urge students to attend a March 1 town hall meeting in Waltham to speak out against the cuts.

“We will be encouraging members of the community who could be affected by the proposals to attend,” Gully wrote to The Hoot.

The university has not indicated whether or not it plans to meet separately with MBTA officials on the matter. Rosen, on the other hand, indicated that he is exploring options to protest the cuts along with neighboring Boston-area schools.

Waltham initiatives far off

In an interview with The Hoot last month, Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy detailed vague plans to improve Waltham public transit.

“We have been studying where do the people travel and where do they want to travel?” she said.

Among her goals, she plans to institute a shuttle system to connect downtown Waltham, Totten Pond Road, Route 128 and Riverside, all with the hope of “[encouraging] people to get out of your cars.”

But as McCarthy made clear, the plans are still in their first stages. When Waltham had a city bus under the previous mayor, ridership was insufficient to justify operating costs.

While MBTA cuts might lead to increased discussion as to local transportation alternatives, Waltham officials have yet to indicate any timeline for implementing new options.

Two scenarios

The MBTA has released two detailed plans that it claims would help close the budget gap.

Under both plans, commuter rail service would end on weekends and after 10 p.m. on weekdays. Ferry routes would also be eliminated.

The first scenario matches fewer service cuts with higher fare increases. Charlie Card fares on the T would rise from $1.70 to $2.40. Brandeis would be affected by a rise in commuter rail Zone 2 fares from $4.75 to $7, by the elimination of Waltham bus route 554 and by the elimination on weekends of route 553.

In contrast, under the second scenario, Charlie Card fares would only rise to $2.25 and commuter rail Zone 2 fares would rise to $6.50. The trade-off would be for an elimination of a long list of bus routes affecting more than 30 million passengers, including every MBTA bus that services Waltham except for route 70.

Both scenarios will be subject to public scrutiny at a Waltham community hearing to be held at 6 p.m. on March 1 at Government Center, 119 School St.