Several public officials, including state Reps. Kevin Murphy, D-Lowell, and Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, decried the timing of the proposed cuts, when U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas has just helped secure the first piece of $60 million in federal funds for a proposed trolley system that would link the Gallagher terminal with the city's downtown business and cultural district, as well as the UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College campuses.
"This is absolutely the wrong time to be cutting these services," said Mayor Patrick Murphy, who noted he is a regular commuter-rail rider.
"My legislative director recently moved back to Lowell. She doesn't have a car, said state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, noting the woman would have no way of getting to her classes at Suffolk University, where she attends law school full time in the evenings, with the proposed cuts in service.
Bobby Tugbiyele, president of the Center City Committee, cited a May 2011 Brookings Institute report on the devastation reduced commuter rail service would wreak on the city.
"It clearly stated that policy-makers should be careful not to sever transportation lifelines between people and jobs," Tugbiyele said.
Officials from the MBTA, which raises funds from municipal levies, statewide sales tax receipts, fares, and advertising, real-estate and parking revenues, said yesterday that they have to do something to reduce the MBTA's $5.2 billion in debt, much of which it inherited from Big-Dig cost overruns, making it the highest debt burden of any U.S. transit agency. According to the MBTA's website, the majority of U.S. transit agencies have raised fares since the T's last hike in 2007 and many have also made service cuts. Also, according to the website, approximately 30 cents of every dollar in revenue goes to pay principal and interest costs on the MBTA's debt, so putting off cost cutting measures will hurt the economy even more in the long run.
"We expect we will be able to do some cost efficiencies, but we have the lowest collective-bargaining wage increases in modern history and the lowest headcount in modern history," said MBTA General Manager Jonathan Davis.
Under the two proposals, everyone from students and seniors to disabled people who rely on THE RIDE for transportation would have to absorb a significant increase in fares.
Kevin Fahy, a Lowell veteran, said he relies on the commuter rail on a regular basis to get him to and from the Veterans Administration hospital in Jamaica Plain, But Fahy also decried the effect the reduction in evening and weekend service would have on attendance at the many events, like the Lowell Summer Music Series, that have made the city a burgeoning cultural mecca that draws tourists to the region.
"People wouldn't be able to get back and forth from Lowell to Boston," he said.