THE ARGUMENT: Should the MBTA be free?

NO: Shawn Dooley, State Representative, Norfolk Republican

I understand that a world where everything is free might be seen to be some type of utopia, but the fact remains that nothing is truly free. While the average Massachusetts citizen understands this, that unfortunately doesn’t stop politicians from spending our hard-earned money in an attempt to garner votes.

This political giveaway du jour is to let everyone ride the MBTA for free. Really?

While the ever-increasing cost and ever-decreasing service of the MBTA definitely needs addressing, making it free will only compound the existing problems while creating a whole litany of new ones.

Let’s look at the facts:

Currently the MBTA operates at a considerable deficit and about 60 percent of its budget is subsidized by Massachusetts taxpayers (many of whom don’t ride the train).

The MBTA serves only half of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth.

Due to its antiquated ticketing system, the T estimates it loses as much as $42 million in revenue annually.

Our ever-aging fleet is riddled with problems and we need to fix what is broken before we consider further expansion and spending precious resources on free programs.

To ask Massachusetts residents to contribute even more to this broken system is foolhardy, not to mention patently unfair to those who do not even have the T as a transportation alternative. In addition, if the T were going to be free, ridership would increase dramatically — costing taxpayers more as new trains, staff, and all associated costs skyrocketed. This would take away precious revenues for other needs such as our schools and roads. We would also face logistical problems of having insufficient track capacity for trains and too few stations on the lines leading into Boston, the main destination for commuters.

The true solution is to make the T more efficient, delivering exceptional service and increasing rider options. Massachusetts should lead the world with our infrastructure by being innovative and focused on profitability and customer service. The MBTA’s culture suffers from a lack of urgency or attention to the bottom line.

We need to create a new vision, with strategic goals and a long-term plan. Throwing more money at a broken system is simply poor business.

YES: Dina Margaret Samfield, Shirley Democratic Town Committee chair; member of Indivisible Nashoba

The two greatest challenges in the 21st century are climate change and income inequality. Taking strong action on transportation by providing fare-free public transit tackles both problems at the same time.

A 2015 US Census Bureau report revealed that, despite a slight decrease in the share of commuters traveling to Boston by car since 2006, the absolute number has actually grown by more than 30,000, according to Transportation for Massachusetts.

Insufficient funding, unreliable service, fare hikes, increasing competition from ridesharing services, and the high cost of housing near transit lines all play a role in limiting public transportation use.

A failure to find ways to expand access to high-quality transit for more people in the region will mean more pollution, congestion, stunted economic growth, and frustration. And with lowincome residents, seniors, and youth prime users of public transit, there is an urgent need for transit equity.

Fully fare-free public transit exists in about 97 cities and towns around the world. In 2008, Aubagne, France abolished its transit fares and expanded service through adopting a small tax. The initiative saved the city in fare collection and resulted in a tripling of its annual ridership in seven years, according to the 2018 book “Free Public Transit: And Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators,” edited by Judith Dellheim and Jason Prince.

I believe if we instituted progressive taxation we would generate enough revenue to cover what we receive now from fares, and to fund increased capacity for the transit system. At the same time, a fair tax system can reverse the inequity that has lower income households paying a larger share of their income in taxes than higher income households.

As the introduction to “Free Public Transit” puts it, “Free public transportation implies many changes…in terms of how we move and how we tax…how we live, where we live, how we relate to each other as a society, and our broader relationship to the urban, regional, and global ecosystem.”

Like the Green New Deal, a widely supported solution to global warming, a fare-free transit system could be just the solution to reducing carbon emissions and providing transit justice that we need.

Read original article here.

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