Student mobilizes protesters against MBTA

by Heidi Moeller / Beacon Staff • January 26, 2012

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Protestors marched from the State House to the city transportation building Monday to fight the proposed changes to the T
Protestors marched from the State House to the city transportation building Monday to fight the proposed changes to the T

Freshman Zach Tucker said he woke up Jan. 3 and read the news as he does nearly every morning.

This day, however, something in particular grabbed his attention: the proposed Massachusetts Bay of Transit Authority budget cuts.  

The budget cuts, which include fare hikes and cutbacks on weekend services of the E train of the Green Line, commuter rail, and buses, prompted Tucker to immediately turn to the web to gather student support. 

Tucker put out a call for help, he said, asking students to assist him in building a community to rally against the MBTA. He instantly got a response from Emerson students Melanie Katz and Nick Riebesehl and Northeastern University student Justin Bensan, all of whom were ready to help. 

“It seemed like the logical choice,” the performing arts major said of his Internet campaign. “College students are known for having Facebook accounts and checking it every two seconds. Besides that, we were all on break, very few students were in the city. In short of coming and physically handing fliers to the people I could find, there was no other means.”

Students Against T Cuts, a grassroots group lead by Tucker and the three other students, has garnered 438 Facebook likes, 258 Twitter followers as of yesterday, and according to Tucker, hundreds of visits to its website each day. 

The website, studentsagainsttcuts.org, features a calendar of the upcoming MBTA public hearings, a history of the MBTA’s budget conflicts, details about the proposed cuts, an option to donate, and a link to sign the organization’s petition. 

“Our goal is to get 10,000 signatures by Feb. 1 at 6 p.m.,” Tucker said. “We started this petition because we think that it’s the only way we are going to get the state to do something about this. They will not do anything until we show them that a significant portion of this city does not support the effort.”

The four leaders behind Students Against T Cuts are not stopping at gaining support through the petition. On Monday, the group partnered with the T Riders Union, an MBTA rider advocacy group, to host a march from the State House to the city transportation building, located at 10 Park Plaza. Nearly 120 protesters rallied outside of the building just before one of 20 public hearings about the proposed cuts scheduled for 1 p.m. 

By 1:15 p.m., the meeting room reached maximum capacity, and attendants were denied entrance until another room opened. Before a presentation on the two proposals, John Davis, MBTA acting general manager, apologized for the cramped space. Davis then explained how the hearing process would work, and allowed participants to line up to speak. 

Among those at the protest was senior visual and media arts major Daniel Schneider. Schneider said the cuts will not necessarily affect him, but that he was at the rally to support all the other citizens of Boston. 

“If there’s ever a time for students to protest, this would be the time,” he said. 

During the hearing Monday, Tucker sat in the stuffy, crowded room tweeting and Facebooking details about the presentation on a laptop. He said Students Against T Cuts tries to have a member at every hearing, to update all social media platforms and advocate for the organization. 

The MBTA has presented two different budget cut scenarios, and both include a fare increase and would eliminate weekend service of the E train on the Green Line, the Mattapan Line, and the commuter rail. In addition, service for all commuter rail lines would end at 10 p.m. on weeknights and specific bus routes are also eliminated in each plan. 

A fare increase of 43 percent is set in scenario one, while in scenario two, the fare increase is 35 percent and more bus routes are cut. 

Bensan, who acts as the policy guide for Students Against T Cuts, completed a co-op at the MBTA, and said he has a high interest in mass transportation policies throughout the country. Currently, he is working to organize the Northeastern branch of Students Against T Cuts.

“I just have a really huge enthusiasm for transportation in general,” the third year political communication major said. “I come from L.A., so I know what it’s like to have limited mobility options. My personal impact on the cause is shaped by my history of living in an area where there is no public transit.”

Initially, Tucker said he thought about the effects the cuts would have on students, particularly those at Northeastern University, which is on the E line, and students who take the commuter rail. But he quickly realized the full amount of stress the MBTA cuts can potentially bring to Boston residents. 

“I’m thinking of all the seniors and working class people who use the bus lines they want to cut,” Tucker said. “I’m not the only person to be upset. It’s about the sense of community. It’s worth noting that these service cuts and fare increases will only cover the T for the next two fiscal years. So two years from now, we could be looking at this situation again.”

Tucker and his peers are not without their own solution to the budget proposals. 

“Of course we want as few [cuts] as possible, but if not that, instead of cutting, maybe consolidating to one bus that runs more frequently,” Tucker said. “Instead of having to run over a number of roads, just run one bus that covers all of these routes in one shared road and focus on one central artery. I’d also advocate for a handful of trains on the weekends. It’s not nearly as expensive as the eight or 10 they run now.”

At the root of the T cuts is the state’s debt crisis. Tucker said raising the gas tax by a few cents or using the states rainy day fund could alleviate some of the debt. 

If one scenario had to be passed in April, Tucker said he would rather see the first proposal pass because, although riders would pay more per trip, the trips would be available. 

“The stories at public meetings are heartbreaking,” Tucker said. “We’re not blaming the T for this. We back them up in any efforts they make to fix the underlying problem.”