BOSTON — MBTA officials are “forging ahead” with deep service cuts to the Boston area’s public transit system beginning next week after a federally required review found the changes won’t have an outsized impact on minority or low-income riders.
On Monday, the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board signed off on an “equity” study of plans to slash commuter rail, subway, bus and ferry service and to close stations to deal with a massive deficit caused by a decline in ridership.
The review, one of the final hurdles to implementing the cuts, found the changes “would not result in disparate impacts to minority populations, disparate benefits to non-minority populations, disproportionate burdens to low-income populations, or disproportionate benefits to non-low-income populations.”
The T’s control board approved the cuts at its Dec. 14 meeting and may keep some of the service changes in place until the fall. The cost-cutting triggered a federally required study of how the changes would affect minorities as compared to others who use public transit.
Staci Rubin, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, called the equity study “inaccurate and incomplete” and urged the board to scrap plans for the cuts.
She pointed out that a state environmental review, which is also required, isn’t done.
MBTA officials said Monday that study will be released March 12 and show the changes will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a result of fewer trains in service.
“That analysis greatly underestimates the increase in emissions for riders who will switch from public transit to private cars due to the reduced transit service,” Rubin said.
The transit agency faces a $580 million deficit in its next fiscal year, caused in part by substantial ridership declines.
The cuts, scheduled to take effect March 14, eliminate weekend commuter rail service on seven lines, including Haverhill’s, and reduce the frequency of trains on weekdays and at peak hours. The cuts also suspend 20 bus routes while reducing the frequency of subway service and water ferries.
Plans also call for closing commuter rail stations including Prides Crossing in Beverly on the Rockport line, and postponing some capital projects.
The Newburyport/Rockport line would be among those keeping weekend service, but the frequency of trains will be reduced.
Approval of the cost-cutting came despite the opposition of lawmakers, unions and environmental, business and health groups who argued the plan will hurt low-income riders and dampen the T’s overall ridership.
Lawmakers have filed several bills aimed at preventing the cuts or station closings.
The cost-cutting plans don’t call for raising fares, which went up in 2019 on the commuter rail and subway by about 6%.
T officials say the cuts are temporary and services could be restored if ridership increases, or if the state gets more federal funds.
The influx of state and federal pandemic relief funds has already allowed T officials to offset the need for some service cuts approved by the control board in December, such as stopping commuter rail service at 9 p.m. on weekdays.
The advocacy group Transit is Essential blasted the MBTA for moving forward with the cuts, saying they ignore a massive influx of federal aid.
“The Baker administration has failed to make a clear case for why these immediate, harmful cuts are necessary,” the group said in a statement. “What is clear is that essential workers and riders making essential trips will bear the brunt of this decision.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.