MBTA fare hikes put uneven burden on people of color

Have you been following the news on the proposed MBTA fare hikes? While there seems to be an overwhelming amount of disapproval based on economics, the environment, and public health impacts, I think we are missing a critical framing on the issue. At its core, this is a racial justice issue.

The MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board has proposed two options for fare increases to kick in this July in order to lower the MBTA’s $242 million dollar deficit. The proposals could raise fares by about seven or 10 percent on average. However, certain passes and services could see increases of as much as 23 percent, disproportionately impacting low-income riders and people of color.

Let’s break this down even more:

T data shows that buses and The Ride are the most commonly chosen forms of public transportation for low-income individuals (those who make $30k/year or less).  Local bus passes would rise by 16-19 percent, and The Ride would rise between 5-10 percent.

The bus is also the most commonly used form of transportation among black residents (ridership data shows that 26% of T bus riders are black).

By contrast, 54 percent of commuter rail riders report income levels of $100,000/year or more and 87 percent of commuter rail passengers are white.

Fare and pass increases for those who ride the commuter rail would increase by 10 percent or less (in some cases not at all and in most cases by only 5 percent), and fares and passes for express bus service (service provided from suburban communities to the city) would drop by between 22 and 26.5 percent.

There will be a heavier burden on families as student passes would rise by 23 percent. About 75 percent of Boston’s children attend Boston Public Schools, and 70 percent of BPS students are of color. Middle and high school students use public transportation to attend school, in increase from past years since the city and the MBTA have encouraged more students to take the T.

BPS estimates that the fare increases could add $1 million annually to their internal costs.

For people of color, in neighborhoods like Dorchester, Mattapan and my community of Roxbury, who have an even stronger dependence on public transportation—I must say, this fare hike seems very oppressive. When a policy change directly impacts low-income, black people, while benefiting, middle-income, white people, it makes for an ideal example of systemic racism.

Boston is better than this. We are a progressive city, with informed citizens, and can no longer continue to perpetuate this system of inequity. As a black woman who cares about the health of her community, and as an organizer who works and lives in these neighborhoods, I most adamantly oppose a fare increase.

I urge the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board to reconsider these fare increases or limit them to 5 percent as the legislature promised in 2013. As a racial justice issue, we must look to resolve this deficit in a more equitable way, by coming up with alternative proposals that do not unfairly target low-income riders and people of color.

The MBTA Board is taking public comment until Feb 12, and at its meetings on Feb 22 and March 7. Please raise your voice to this injustice.

The writer is the Community Organizing and Communications Manager for Boston Alliance for Community Health. He lives in Roxbury.