Emerson College President M. Lee Pelton voiced his concerns about the proposed Massachusetts Bay of Transit Authority budget cuts in a letter to Richard A. Davey, the Secretary and Chief Financial Officer of the Massachussets Department of Transporation. Pelton pointed out that two-thirds of Emerson students, staff, and faculty use the MBTA's public transportation, and wrote that the currently proposed cuts would be "harmful." He criticized another recommendation which would charge students $10 annually, calling it a "dangerous precedent."
Pelton talked about using his position as President to speak out on social issues at a speech earlier this month. "College presidents have an opportunity, even a duty, to put to good use our bully pulpit to nurture a more creative and civic minded impulse," Pelton said, "one that would lead the face of change and act responsibly in an increasingly complex and faster changing world."
Text of President Pelton's letter:
February 22, 2012
Dear Secretary Richard Davey:
As President of Emerson College, I am deeply concerned about the MBTA’s proposed fare increases and equally important proposed service cuts. The MBTA is a critical part of life in Boston, connecting people, neighborhoods, jobs and civic activities. Hundreds of thousands of people depend on the T every day to go to work and get around Boston. It makes good jobs a reality for many who could not travel to them without the T. Tens of thousands of car trips are eliminated each day that would otherwise increase pollution and traffic congestion in both Boston and its surrounding communities. Suffice it to say, Emerson College strongly supports public transportation, as the College doesn’t own parking and two thirds of its students, staff and faculty use public transportation.
We all recognize that the MBTA has a serious financial problem. Despite being revered as the nation’s oldest public transit system, the MBTA also has the distinction of having the highest debt burden of any transit system in America. Even with fare revenues up and sales taxes rolling in, the T plans to spend approximately $161 million more this year than it will take in. According to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, MBTA spending is increasing twice as fast as its revenues, a situation that is unsustainable.
So what are the solutions? Mayor Menino has proposed increasing the state gas tax to fund the shortfall, and this is worth considering. The MBTA Advisory Board has made a number of recommendations, many of which require considerable review and further discussion. One of the recommendations, a proposed $10 fee on all Boston college students, would place a $2 million burden on students and in my opinion, set a dangerous precedent that could lead to future fees and taxes.
Restructuring the MBTA’s fractured financial system will take decades to achieve. The proposed cuts in service and increased fares cannot be born entirely by the users and in particular, not by students. Colleges and universities are already fully partnered with the T and are a major, critical customer base. As you may know, Emerson and many other colleges in Boston encourage transit use by offering fare discounts in cooperation with the T.
In closing, I respectfully request that your restructuring program not include the harmful service cuts as currently proposed, not charge the additional $10 fee per student to simply use public transportation and reduce the proposed increased fares for students in consideration of the existing subsidized T pass programs.
Thank you in advance for your time and attention to this matter.
M. Lee Pelton