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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis singled out in new MBTA Advisory Board plan

News Analysis: With transit cuts looming, univ in unique position

Published: February 17, 2012
Section: Front Page

Under a new “third” plan released Wednesday to bridge the MBTA’s budget gap and prevent service cuts, Brandeis students could be forced to dish out an annual $10 commuter rail fee while the university would be asked to make a payment of $50,000 to keep its name on the Brandeis/Roberts station.

The three-member MBTA Advisory Board proposal made clear that those with the most to lose from service cuts should be asked to contribute to ensure service cuts do not materialize. The plan would prevent threatened transit cuts and would only lead to a 25 percent fare increase, promising to be far more politically palatable than previous plans.

The plan recognizes the unique position of Brandeis in the MBTA cuts battle. Access to Boston is not at risk in the same way for Brandeis students as it is for local residents. After all, were service to be eliminated, Brandeis could charter its own Boston shuttle. Instead, what is at issue is who will pay to keep transit services intact: commuters or college tuition payers.

The alternative plan comes at a time when Brandeis administrators have voiced concerns over the MBTA cuts but have not released details about what kinds of action they would take should service cuts be implemented. “The Advisory Board did not inform Brandeis nor the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts of its proposal before it was released,” Senior Vice President for Communications Andrew Gully said.

“We’re hoping to get more details in the days ahead so the administration can discuss it internally as well as with members of our State House delegation, representatives of the city, and our colleagues at other colleges and universities.”

Advisory Board Budget & Policy Analyst Brian Kane confirmed that the ideas in the report have not yet been discussed with institutions such as Brandeis. He called on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to “begin liaising with institutions.” He also admitted that the MBTA had “no real authority to collect” revenue from institutions, but that cooperation would be crucial to preventing service cuts.

Students have generally frowned on the idea of service cuts, especially at a Town Hall meeting held Monday with Student Union President Herbie Rosen ’12. But at the same time, were cuts to be made, Brandeis students have university resources to fall back on, potentially in the form of new transportation offerings.

The Advisory Board’s proposal could be appealing to Brandeis administrators, requiring a one-time, up-front payment instead of forcing any new, costly busing service. The plan also avoids a situation of the administration charging students to use a new bus service.

Details of the plan

According to the MBTA Advisory Board, the new plan would raise $2.6 million from commuter rail beneficiaries.

Kane explained that the main goal of the plan would be to ensure “we did not have service cuts.”

“Given the benefit [commuter rail beneficiaries] testified about receiving it is reasonable to ask those institutions to contribute towards partially preserving them,” the board’s report explained.

As part of the plan, the 140,000 full- and part-time students in the commuter rail zone would be asked to pay a $10 annual student fee, to raise $1.4 million. The cost would help keep late-night and weekend commuter rail trains running. The board also signaled future increases in the fee could be negotiated in exchange for “night owl” service or “off-peak discounts.”

The plan also singles out Brandeis in discussion of raising $50,000 from the school to keep the name of the Brandeis/Roberts station. “There is value … we think there should be some payment made,” Kane said.

In total, four institutions would be asked to make payments, for a total of $200,000.

On top of all the payments, fares would increase by approximately 25 percent, which would mean a fare increase from $4.75 to approximately $5.94 in zone two for a ride to North Station. That’s considerably less than the scenario in which fares would be increased to $7 or $6.50, as previously proposed. Monthly passes, currently priced at $151, would increase by 25.5 percent under the plan to $189.50.

Under the plan, Charlie Card fares on the T would also rise to $2.15 from $1.70.