Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In Your Ear, MBTA! Two

At yesterday's MBTA fare-increase hearing, we were the focused, the scattered, the concise, the self-righteous, and some just plain loony. After a T official cried poor and promised service improvements, we rabble got to rouse.

About 40 or so of us who had signed on the clipboard sheets had our allotments of two to three minutes. We were often angry and indignant, outraged that the mismanaged, underfunded T would come for its second big increase in fares in two years.

There were a few swayers and mumblers in the crowd, but no obvious dirty smellies. A few had non-fare-related agenda. Several of those were a welcome break from the relatively consistent chants of late trains, filthy seats, and why pay for such poor service.

On the Edges

Among the fringe speakers were:
  • A funny, shaved-head cycling guy. He took the mike off its stand and moved in tight circles talking about not being able to get the T after 2 p.m. when he needed it, wondering how many rapes related to women not being able to take the transit in the wee hours, and his finale of pulling a set of scratch tickets out of his pockets and offering them to the first person would cackle like a chicken. A woman did and he gave them to her. He wanted fun in the T and proposed a scratch ticket to benefit the T.
  • A public-access cable TV guy. He filmed the testimony. He wore a Holy Grail tee-shirt reading I'm not dead yet. He claimed to have been wrongly convicted of filming and taping transit cops on public property. He named names, and gave a URL.
  • An angry, sad woman. She claimed that she had been sexually harassed, apparently by a T driver and then had her complaint ignored. She also named multiple names.
While the two slanders were in the air, MBTA Assistant General Counsel Gerald Kelley didn't handle it. He let the people go far too long and cover inflammatory ground of questionable legality and certain irrelevance to the fare-increases.

MBTA Bungling

A little more amusingly, Kelley announced several times that we could get additional information from fareproposal@mbta.com. He referred to this repeatedly as the Website, not email address. He is no alpha geek and needs some 12-year-old to explain addresses to him.

In fact, that email address is where people who can't get to a T hearing, can't get a chance to testify, or have a flash of brilliance they want to share with the T later to send a comment. There is a site for more information about the threatened increase.

Kelley was not even a moderately good moderator. He let quite a few ravers abuse their three-minute limit. The Sierra Club guy for one seems particularly disjointed. He's go on about some angle, then stop suddenly and launch into another. Kelley finally said he had been talking for over six minutes and then let him go for another two. That meant another three or four of us lost out of our chances.

At the beginning was a little humor and much dudgeon. When the tall and gangly Dennis DiZoglio, deputy general manager for development, started his PowerPoint to claim justification for the increase, people said they couldn't hear him. The mike would not extend to his face. So he said he'd bend over. A wag up front called, the best laugh of the hearing, "Isn't that what you're asking us to do?"

The couple of dozen late arrivals who could not get in caused much hooha. Deval Patrick called to let them in. Numerous of the audience yelled the same.

The official story is that the room only held 150 before it violated fire code. Many stood in the back, leaving empty chairs that seem to beckon butts to cover them.

The real issue is that the arrogant MBTA apparently wanted to limit the number and keep within their two-hour hearing sked. They certainly should have arranged for the huge lecture hall in the basement. First come first speaking on the clipboard lists. 150 or 600 in the room is not relevant other than letting people think it really is a public hearing.

Wait 2 Hours, Speak 2 Minutes

At 6:17, I took my two minutes to testify about my request for a fare-free T. I had two advantages at this point. One, no one had already said that, and two, Senator Jarrett Barrios had insisted that the T board come to the legislature for a financial restructuring. That fit nicely into my plea.

Mine was simple enough. We heavily subsidize auto travel through millions here and billions nationally annually for highway construction, maintenance and enforcement. Unlike mass-transit subsidies, these are hidden and accepted. They also encourage exactly what we should not want -- more cars and gas usage, pollution, congestion, noise, accidents, and illness.

We should not compare our T fares with other mass-transit cities. Instead we should lead the nation in putting our money where our mouth is. Fully subsidize mass transit, including commuter rail. Make it too attractive not to take the T. Drastically reduce vehicular traffic, and reap the health, safety, economic and other benefits from then on.

I said that he legislature had made a terrible mistake twice, once in not thinking through the forward-funding and what would happen if the sales-tax and other assumptions didn't work, and two not leading on fixing it when they saw that it didn't work. They have to correct their serious miscalculations.

The proposal got much applause and cheering. One the way out, I heard one sad, strange little woman calling out, "It'll never happen." I wonder whether she works for the T, or maybe she's one of those throttling types who'll say, "I'm only trying to be realistic." In that way lies stagnation.

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