The MBTA’s plans to fill a $161 million budget shortfall may hurt Bostonians in ways that go beyond their wallets. According to the study “A Healthy T for a Healthy Region,” put out by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) on March 14, 2012, the MBTA’s planned fare hikes and service cuts would be detrimental to public health.
There are numerous adverse side effects of the MBTA’s plan highlighted in the study – more cases of asthma and obesity, more car accidents and 50,000 metric tons of C02 added to our atmosphere. These externalities stem from the notion that any decrease in access to public transit would be accompanied by an increase in the number of cars on the road. As cars are less efficient and more prone to accident than mass transit, problems associated with car usage are worsened by a lack of MBTA availability. Other effects, like a decrease access to primary health care facilities, would simply be the direct result of cuts in service.
When all externalities are taken into account, the MAPC study estimates that the adverse effects of the MBTA’s two scenarios would cost Hub citizens an estimated $272 million (for Scenario 1) or $387 million (for Scenario 2) per year.
Two of the study’s authors, Mariana Arcaya and Peter James (both of the MAPC and the Harvard School of Public Health) presented their findings during a forum this past Monday, March 26. Also presenting during this forum was Jacob Bor from Occupy Boston’s Health Justice Working Group, Occupy the T, and the Harvard School of Public Health.
“It’s great to see HSPS students doing work that can have an impact on policy,” Arcaya said, “we’re doing research that can affect positive change, [research] that can be applied in a real-world context.”
Although the findings of the study have not yet been submitted to peer-review, Arcaya assured the audience of about 20 people that all of the sources used in the study were peer-reviewed. She also noted that the findings were sent around to many professionals and colleagues within the HSPH before being released to the public.
Peter James presented the study’s findings, which painted a grim picture for the future of Massachusetts transportation. The questions the group had wanted to answer in performing the study were numerous, including “How would the proposed service cuts and fare increases impact ridership?”, “What would happen to the number of cars on the road?” and “How would this impact public health?”
The group calculated that under Scenario 1, about 30,400 new drivers would be added to Boston roads and highways daily, consuming a total of $22.7 million of gasoline per year. Under Scenario 2, the group estimated that 48,600 new drivers would be added, who would consume about $31.8 million in gasoline per year. Under either plan, people living in the Boston area would be exposed to far more pollution from exhaust, and the cost of car crashes (even those which don’t result in injury) could add up to about $48.8 million per year.
James explained that one drawback of the study was the group’s inability to control for income, despite the fact that the proposed cuts in service are concentrated in lower-income communities. However, they were able to estimate the number of households who would lose access to a primary care facility that would only be accessible to them via the T (550 under Scenario 1, 2200 under Scenario 2).
Though the MBTA announced its intention to scrap both the Scenarios on which the study was based, some combination of service cuts and fare hikes is still inevitable, according to Jon Davis, the general manager of the MBTA. Arcaya emphasized the continuing relevance of the group’s study. She also stressed that cuts to public transit are not simply an issue of getting from point A to point B.
“The point of this is to reframe the issue from one of just transit and mobility to a social justice issue and a health issue. Service cuts and fare hikes will just shift costs,” she said, “the T is a public health resource, so let’s think about it that way.”
Jacob Bor finished up the presentation by showing two videos: one of a ‘mic check’ of a MassDOT Board of Directors meeting, and the other of children from Somerville’s Mystic Learning Center speaking out about how cuts to bus service will impact their school and community. Bor then passed around an open letter from Occupy the T, which was delivered to the MassDOT Board of Directors that afternoon.
Here is the letter delivered to MassDOT Chair John R. Jenkins: