BOSTON (AP) — Like many governors before him, Gov. Charlie Baker is finding out the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s travails go beyond the occasional delayed train.
Shortly after taking office in 2015, Baker experienced a trial by ice when snowstorm after snowstorm pummeled the state and exposed every weak spot in the MBTA. He vowed to improve the aging public transportation system, pouring money into new technology meant to thwart winter’s worst weather and creating a new Fiscal and Management Control Board to help stabilize the system’s finances.
But the headaches continue. The latest is a $42 million budget gap — and a proposal to stop commuter rail service on the weekends for a year to help close the hole.
Shortly after the proposal surfaced Monday, Baker said it was just part of a “menu of options” for the fiscal management control board to consider.
On Thursday, Baker said during his monthly radio show on WGBH-FM that “service cuts should be a last resort to deal with budget issues.”
“I am a big believer in making sure that we are doing the things we need to do to create a transportation system that works for people,” he said, “but it also needs to be one that is fiscally responsible.”
The Republican governor said the fiscal control board has other options to consider including a proposal he said could dramatically reduce what the MBTA spends on maintaining its fleet of buses.
He said the budget woes are another challenge for the board.
“They have done a pretty good job, and the T’s performance over the past three or four storms is a pretty good indication of that,” Baker said.
Democrats — hoping to unseat Baker next year — were quick to pounce on the proposal.
On Thursday, members of Massachusetts’ all-Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve and Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack protesting the plan.
The delegation also criticized a second proposal that would end thousands of door-to-door rides for disabled passengers for a year who rely on the paratransit service known as the Ride.
The service is mandated by the federal government, but the MBTA currently goes beyond that requirement. The proposal would eliminate rides that aren’t federally mandated by limiting service to areas that are more than three-quarters of a mile away from an MBTA bus or subway stop.
The delegation, led by U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton and Mike Capuano, said the proposed cuts would leave some of the state’s most vulnerable residents without access to transportation and may drive people away from the commuter rail system in the future.
“Instead, the MBTA should follow the lead of leading transit agencies around the world that are finding innovative, cost-effective ways to expand off-peak service to drive ridership and revenue while providing critical transportation to the citizens they exist to serve,” Moulton said in a statement.
The MBTA recently partnered with ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft to provide subsidized rides for disabled passengers eligible for The Ride.
Baker’s sole declared Democratic challenger in next year’s governor’s race, Jay Gonzalez, also faulted the proposal, saying, “Cutting critical public services during a period of economic growth shouldn’t be confused for good management.”
While Baker said service cuts should be a last resort, he also stressed the need for a balanced budget.
Cuts to weekend commuter rail service would save about $10 million, while cutting back on trips on the Ride would save $7.4 million. The agency already hopes to save $27.6 million by privatizing much of its bus maintenance and customer service departments.
A final agency budget doesn’t need to be finalized until April 15.
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