Boston T riders at several downtown subway stations received a welcome surprise during their evening commute yesterday (Friday, July 13th): a Fare Free Ride home.
Entering train stations at Chinatown, Downtown Crossing, as well as at Central Square and Harvard Square, passengers found the electronic turnstiles held open for them, by a group of local activists known as the Boston Fare Strike Coalition.
Holding signs and banners bearing the slogan, “They say fare HIKE, We Say Fare STRIKE!” the thirty-plus “fare strikers” welcomed T-riders inside with the announcement that “this T station has been liberated,” and that “Today the T is free for all.” Boston Fare Stike Coalition has vowed to build opposition to the MBTA’s recently implemented fare hikes, which they consider to be both unnecessary and unfair.
Train stations echoed with the rhyming chant: “The Banks Got a Free Ride, Why Can’t We?…Public Transportation Should Be Free!” According to participants, the slogan calls attention to the way bankrupt private banks got bailed out by taxpayers, while public agencies and T riders facing similar deficits are offered no such “bailout,” but left to “suck it up” and “tighten their belts.”
The “Free Ride” slogan also points to the fact that while the MBTA has forced riders to suffer fare hikes and service cuts, the MBTA has never even asked the banks and bond-holders who continue to profit from the T’s enormous debt to take a similar cut, effectively giving the banks a “free ride,” while forcing T riders—working people, the unemployed, students, seniors, and the disabled—to bear more of the burden. “Our trains, Our Tracks…Get this Debt off our Backs!” strikers chanted, again calling attention to the role of debt and financial profiteering in keeping the T in trouble.
Strikers insist that there is plenty of money available not only to roll back the fare hikes, but to make public transportation more affordable—or even fare free—if only the excess profits of private corporations and individuals could be made available to service the people’s needs.
The action was the first of what some hope will become a new Boston tradition, “Fare Free Fridays.” As one activist put it, “It’s only fair that people get to ride free one day a week now. After all, the MBTA just jacked up fares on struggling working people by 23%. A fare hike is a wage cut. And wages are already too low as it is.” As many as 150 people received fare free rides.
Contrary to CBS-affiliate WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong, who falsely depicted the T rider response to the Fare Strikers as uniformly negative, a wide variety of rider responses were on display Friday, including plenty of enthusiastic support. Rider reactions ranged from surprise and some confusion, to appreciation (for the free ride), and solidarity (with the larger cause). Thumbs up and handshakes were common, while many curious riders stopped to engage coalition members in conversation. A number of riders signed up to join the coalition’s contact list, while others promised to check out The Boston Fare Strike Coalition on Facebook.
The Fare Strikers handed hundreds of leaflets to riders, explaining the day’s action, and encouraging them to join the city-wide campaign to expose the injustice of the recent MBTA fare increases and to exert financial pressure on the MBTA through a mass fare refusal. Their leaflet depicts a young woman smiling as she kicks over a turnstile, freeing the way for those behind. The leaflet also invites T riders and workers alike to come to the next public meeting of the Boston Fare Strike Coalition: Thursday, July 19th, at 6pm by the Boston Common Gazebo, to discuss and plan future actions.
Here’s a video of an activist explaining the rationale behind the fare strike: