Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Panda Bear on Cuts in Boston Area Public Transportation

Mr. Panda  has been mobilized into political action as well many other  public transit users/supporters in the past couple of months fighting proposed cuts in services for Boston Area MBTA(public transportation) users.   Despite the recession and the rise in public transportation ridership, the MBTA says it is going broke and has proposed some drastic service cuts..  However, many people feel that this proposal is an attack on lower income/working people people.  It is part of the ongoing debate that the Panda Bear and many others feel(interestingly enough both on the US political left and right) that the US is run by and for the wealthy elites.   The Boston Occupy movement has taken on the cause to prevent these service cuts;the movement believes that for the rich the government finds the money.

Both the Panda Bear and Mr. Panda have never owned a car and have relied on Boston area public transportation to take them places they need to go.   However, in February the Boston MBTA came up with a set of radical proposals to reduce services and raise fares.   It would personally effect Mr. Panda more than the Panda Bear.   Mr. Panda has gotten very upset and has started writing letters to public officials opposing the service cuts.

Both the Panda Bear and Mr. Panda attended the public hearings about the proposed changes.   The Panda Bear and her husband are going to a meeting tonight.  The audience at these meetings has been very angry. Both local politicians and MBTA officials are at these meetings.

The most interesting meeting was one in Quincy, Massachusetts.   Many people at the  said these cuts in services would leave them stranded and without transportation to get them to work.   There was also anger at the sudden nature of these proposed cuts.   Many businesses opposed these cuts in service saying they would hurt local business.     Three Quincy teenagers spoke at the meeting to the MBTA General Manager and the Panda Bear was very impressed with these teenagers.   They were saying how they, their friends and their families depended on the public transportation system to get to school and work.   These teenagers seemed like a very articulate and reasonable group of youths .

What has made the Panda Bear, Mr. Panda and other MBTA users angry is the that so many of the financial problems of the MBTA come from the fact the Massachusetts State Legislature  which has made the MBTA assume the responsibility of paying the interest on the bonds issued for highway projects.   Many people (including the Panda Bear) believe that this debt should be removed and the MBTA only be held responsible for only  its own operating costs.   The Panda Bear believes that about a third of the deficit of the MBTA comes from debt relating to highway improvement projects.   Also what has got Mr. Panda angry is that the MBTA is not willing to make cuts in the money/default on these debts but rather cut services.   Bond holders are wealthy individuals;the MBTA seems like it more interested in protecting wealthy investors than the public which it is supposed to serve.

In addition what has made the people at these meetings angry(and the Panda Bear thinks rightly so) is that the MBTA has not looked at any other way of reducing operating costs besides service cuts.   Both the MBTA management and employees make good salaries and have above average benefits.    The MBTA has made no move to reduce salaries or cut benefits of its employees.   The Panda Bear has come to believe that when organizations do badly the upper management should receive a pay cut(Mr. Panda Bear thinks this happens in private industry but the upper management seems protected no matter what they do).     In addition, many people have pointed out that the finances of the MBTA have been mishandled; however,  the people who made the mistakes are not the ones who are suffering but innocent MBTA riders.   There has been a lot of financial mismangment and "fuzzy" math at the MBTA.

What struck the Panda Bear at these meetings was how unpublic minded some "public" officials are.   The Panda Bear is no longer opposed to the privatizing of some public operations if private sector can show that the can perform the functions in an effective/cost effective manner.   She has come to feel that there is no intrinsic superiority in certain functions being done by public employees.   Previously, the Panda Bear had been opposed to privatization.  

There is a famous song called Charlie and the MTA.  It was written in the nineteen forties to protest a fare increase of the Boston public transit system which became very popular.   There is a refrain that goes:

Did he ever return? No, he never returned
And his fate is still unlearned
He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston
He′s the man who never returned.

The Panda Bear thinks this song should be updated to reflect the reason for Charlie's non return is sudden cuts in public transit that leave him stranded.

Cynically, the Panda Bear things the MBTA could just put through these service cuts without anyone noticing them.   Fortunately, people are taking note.   Supposedly, as a result of public protest a modified plan has been offered with more moderate fare increases and no reductions in service.   However, the Panda Bear believes that constant vigilance is needed to ensure that drastic MBTA service cuts are not made.

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