Call Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu a modern-day Samuel Adams. He, of course, famously led a nighttime dumping of British tea into the Boston Harbor, protesting Britain’s taxation without representation. Councilor Wu has taken her 2019 version of that revolutionary tea party to the streets, demonstrating against the latest MBTA fare hikes, effective today. It is a nearly 7% increase, if you haven’t been paying attention. Earlier this year, Wu urged the MBTA board to rescind the increase, arguing that raising the fees especially burdens low-income residents and punishes “commuters doing the most to ease traffic and improve air quality.” She envisions a T service free to all. One hundred other cities in the world are already doing it, to encourage public transit use.
A third of Greater Boston voters recently polled by Mass Inc. said the MBTA is “in crisis,” with another 50 percent saying the system has "major problems." Today, while beleaguered T riders pay more for service most don’t get, Wu and her cadre of volunteers will rally rush hour riders for #BostonTParty. Wu hopes to “engage riders” and get them to see “what we could do now if we marshal the political will to act with urgency.” Nobody is questioning the urgency of the moment. It’s depressingly ironic that in the weeks before today’s fare hike, two MBTA trains derailed, causing system-wide chaos and disruptions. Because I am not a daily rider of the T, I thought I had managed to dodge the post-derailment tangle of alternate route shuttle buses and detours. No such luck. A couple of days ago, I watched my inbound Harvard Square bus roll right past my regular stop, heading — I didn’t know where. Another confused passenger confronted the bus driver who said simply, “Trouble in the tunnel. We can’t go in there while they work on it.” The bus driver said he wasn’t sure how long the route would be diverted, as he pulled over a block or so from our original stop. Now, as MBTA mess-ups go, this is relatively tame, but it’s yet more evidence that when one part of the aging system fails, the tremors continue far and wide.
And that includes the political tremors. Channeling the Sons of Liberty, who threw the tea overboard, both Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healey have recently issued sharp public critiques of the MBTA. The mayor declared there should be no fare hikes until the Red Line was fixed. And last week on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, AG Healey described the T’s infrastructure as “terrible” and “pathetic.” In this contemporary cloning of the tea party, Gov. Baker has been playing the role of King George III, trying to calm the patriots — err, riders —with projections of future T improvements. Maybe that’s why he’s now proposing $50 million in supplemental funds to be added to the already planned $8 billion MBTA capital plan. His five-part budget bill would include more aggressive scheduling of evening and weekend closures to speed up the repair work. House Speaker Robert DeLeo says he’ll work with the governor on the bill, but only as part of a larger long-term strategic plan for the T.
In the meantime, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu worries that without bold action, T riders will stop riding the T, something the MBTA can least afford. She will campaign today against the new fare hikes, reminding T riders the Boston Tea Party was the beginning of the revolution nobody thought the little guys could win.