Concerns about how more privatization efforts from the MBTA could lead to widespread discriminatory practices of transportation services prompted the Boston City Council on Wednesday to unanimously request a briefing from Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration.
Residents have experienced multiple issues with Keolis Commuter Services, the private transportation company that runs the commuter rail, including frequently canceled trains. Beyond affecting how these riders get to work, school or home, they are also often redirected to trains that charge higher fares, which council members say is discriminatory.
“It seems that the Baker administration and the MBTA have turned deaf ears and blind eyes to the urgent demands and practical recommendations from consumers and readers,” said Councilor Ayanna Pressley. “It’s a social and economic justice issue, but it also perpetuates concentrations of poverty and segregation of neighborhoods.”
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Councilors pointed specifically to Baker as being responsible for these ongoing issues, saying that he continues to blame the wrong people for the transportation shortfalls. Community leaders are concerned about the look to privatize more aspects of the MBTA instead of focusing on investing in the transit system.
“The T is insolvent because folks in the past borrowed money on behalf of the T to move over to the big dig,” Councilor Tito Jackson said. “We need the government to show leadership on this issue, not turn their back on the hardworking men and women who make this antiquated system work every day. Trains in [Dorchester and Mattapan] have to go to museums to get parts from circa World War II.”
On the Fairmount line, which goes through Roxbury and Dorchester toward downtown, Keolis canceled at least 17 trains in October, according to The Boston Globe. Councilor Andrea Campbell said that this denial of service severely disrupts residents’ lives.
“While we talk about privatization, which sometimes does work and sometimes not, we need to talk about the benefits and lack of benefits when it comes to the community,” she said.
Council members commended the Boston Carmen’s Union, who have been fighting against MBTA privatization efforts the past few months, for being on the front lines of this issue. Some union members attended the City Council meeting.
“There has been nothing transparent about the way MBTA leadership has pursued outsourcing," said James O’Brien, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, in a news release. "From the decision making, to the forgiven fines, to the secret hiring of private consultants—the MBTA continues to withhold information from the public, waiting to reveal full details until pushed for information by the media.”
O’Brien said that the news of Keolis canceling trains on the Fairmount Line shows that a private company is not accountable to the public. The council wants to know if MBTA officials knew about Keolis’ actions to redeploy trains away from city residents and also asks that other privatization efforts be temporarily halted until they can be sure more measures won’t disproportionately harm public transit services for some residents.
“Businesses always have a business interest, we have to keep that in mind,” said Councilor Frank Baker. “[But] service is more important than profit.”