How Could the MBTA Funding Crisis Affect Cambridge?

How Could the MBTA Funding Crisis Affect Cambridge?

Photo: "Lechmere with no buses" by Mark Jaquith

By now if you haven’t heard that the MBTA has a huge operating deficit and is proposing steep fare increases and service cutbacks that still won’t solve the problem in the long term, then stop reading and go back to the TV. Most of the coverage of this mess has concentrated on the impacts on T riders. Very little has been said about what it might do to cities like Cambridge. Certainly, cutbacks will reduce ridership, and that will negatively affect access to education, employment, commerce, and recreation. These reason alone should be enough to worry you, with the associated economic, social and environmental impacts. But wait, there’s more.

The City of Cambridge relies heavily on good public transportation in its planning, permitting, and development policies. North Point, Kendall Square, and Alewife are all conceived of as transit oriented development (TOD) areas, and the city is staking its economic future on projected commercial real estate taxes from these areas. TOD relies on good public transit for access, traffic and parking planning, density bonuses, and efficiencies in energy and financing.

At the latest Kendall Square Advisory Committee meeting on January 26th. The topic was transportation, and it was made clear just how important good public transit is to the future of the area if any significant growth is to occur there. Many reasons were put forth. Roads are reaching capacity. Building parking is very expensive. The documented decrease in automobile use (which is dependent on good alternative transport) is used to justify a reduction in parking spaces. Simply to get the users in and out will be nearly impossible without significant increases in public transit to the area. Energy efficient building is also expensive, and reduced parking can offset some of these costs.

Then of course there are reams of evidence that the pollution reductions resulting from mass transit use reduces health related costs to individuals, employers and governments.

Massachusetts needs to come up with a scheme to make public transit sustainable (no pun intended) and expandable over the long term.

So what can you do? There are all of the obvious things like attending the T’s meetings and speaking out, writing T and State officials and legislators. We can take collective action as well. Together we are the City and its government is our voice.

The only action that the City Council has been willing to take so far is to request a “briefing or roundtable to inform the City Council about issues and impacts of MBTA service cuts and fare increases as they affect Cambridge” The order was passed on Jan. 9 and the meeting was to be scheduled before Feb. 8. As of Jan. 31, I can’t find it on the city calendar.

A roundtable is limited to those who are able to attend, because it's not televised, does not necessarily provide for public comment, and, most importantly, rarely results in action. The Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods has asked the City Council to do something a bit more pro active. To adopt a Policy Order with specific instructions to tell the T, Mass. DOT, Governor Patrick and his executive staff and our legislative delegation What the stakes are for our fair city, and what we want them to do.

Please read the policy order and if you think it would help ask your favorite City Councillor to sponsor this order. You can email the whole Council at this address:

To see the order click here.

The Author lives on Hurley Street and is the former President of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods.


This was published in the Cambridge Chronicle print edition of February 9-15 and went up on their on-line version on Feb.11.

Councillor Cheung put our order on the City Council agenda for the Feb 13 meeting.

Thank you Councillor Cheung.

February 13, 2012

WHEREAS: The City of Cambridge and its residents, businesses and universities rely on the MBTA for safe and reliable transportation; and

WHEREAS: The MBTA has proposed two scenarios whereby fares are increased and services severely cut, thereby having a negative impact on those who rely on the MBTA for their own transportation or that of their employees, customers or students; and

WHEREAS: Reducing the availability of public transportation would negatively impact the ability to develop more densely around transportation hubs, potentially reduce tax revenues expected from such development and be harmful to the environment without solving the MBTA's fiscal deficit; and

WHEREAS: Furthermore, it would negatively impact the local economy by limiting transportation options for consumers to reach stores and get to work; now therefore be it

That the City Council go on record in opposition and so inform the Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey, Governor Patrick and members of the Cambridge delegation of the Legislature in opposition to the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts; and be it further


That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to provide a report on the general impacts of the proposed MBTA fare increases and service cuts on the City of Cambridge, its economy and future growth; and be it further

That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to direct the Community Development, Human Services and any other relevant City departments to hold community meetings across the city to inform and gather community imput and to inform residents how to lobby the MA Legislature.

Read more: Guest commentary: MBTA cuts will derail Cambridge development - Cambridge, Massachusetts - Cambridge Chronicle