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Tobias '12: No cuts to mass transit

 

The proposed service cuts by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority are a terrible idea. These cuts would end commuter rail service to Providence after 10 p.m. on weekdays and entirely on weekends. For the privilege of fewer services, commuters would experience an average of a 35 to 43 percent fare increase. For Brown students, it would severely limit access to Boston and would force them onto the less convenient and more expensive Amtrak trains.

In his column ("Transit cuts, fare increases; two extra-dumb ideas," Feb. 2), Daniel Moraff '14 explained why cutting mass transportation is bad policy and how it could have been prevented. Regardless, the mismanagement of the past is something we need to accept in the present if we are to save the MBTA from its $161 million deficit.

To address this shortfall, the MBTA is proposing two scenarios that identify service reductions and fare increases. These scenarios suggest a lack of foresight by the MBTA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in responding to this crisis. This shortfall is an excellent opportunity to think big about the nature of public transportation in the 21st century.

First, our continued reliance on fossil fuels is unsustainable, both because it pollutes the environment and because there are a finite amount of oil reserves left on Earth. Mass transportation is much more fuel-efficient than automobiles and is the way of the future. Cuts to rail service will only encourage our addiction to cars and fossil fuels, thereby extending our dependence on carbon fuels far into the future.

Instead of cutting rail service, Massachusetts should be taxing gasoline and using the additional revenue to cover the budget shortfalls of the MBTA. Such an action would simultaneously maintain mass transit and discourage fossil fuel use.

While some may complain that higher gasoline costs will hurt drivers, Massachusetts residents already have it way too easy. The gasoline tax in Massachusetts is a mere 23.5 cents per gallon, which is significantly lower than the 49.6 cents customers shell out per gallon in neighboring Connecticut, or even the 33 cent tax here in Rhode Island. 

In addition, paying a little more at the pump will lead to several benefits for many drivers in the Boston suburbs. For those getting in and out of Boston during rush hour, anything that gets more people off the roads and into trains and buses would be well worth a couple of cents. And for those who do make the switch to the train, they will find that sitting and reading on their iPads is a lot more enjoyable than gritting their teeth in daily standstill traffic.

On top of an increased gas tax, there are still many ways that the MBTA can raise revenues without interfering with service. One of the major causes for the budget shortfall in the first place is interest incurred on debts related to the Big Dig. I say charge a toll for drivers who want to use I-93, which goes through the center of Boston, since they benefit from the Big Dig's completion and use that money to help pay down the MBTA's debt.

Finally, as students at Brown, many of us are not Massachusetts residents but will gain tremendously from the MBTA maintaining or even increasing current rail service. With a transportation bill looming in Washington that puts in jeopardy the roughly $8 billion allocated nationally for mass transportation, we have the responsibility to oppose it. If the federal government were to adequately support mass transportation, it could go a long way to fixing the MBTA budget.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts looks to be a leader in innovation. It is a hub of biotech companies and universities that attract some of the brightest minds in the country — though if they are choosing Cambridge over Providence, how bright can they really be? These students and young people need an infrastructure that works for them. They understand that the current model is unsustainable and that mass transportation is the path forward.

The city of Boston and its surrounding suburbs deserve a mass transportation system worthy of carrying top talent in and out of the city on any day of the week, no matter the time. It is ridiculous that in 2012, a major metropolis cannot even accomplish that.

 

 

Ethan Tobias '12 is really good at getting work done on trains. He can be reached at Ethan_Tobias@brown.edu.




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