On Tuesday, February 2, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will hold a Public Hearing to unveil its proposal to hike Student T Pass fares from $26 to $32 per month. It's no secret that the T is suffering from significant financial and structural problems, including a $242 million budget deficit and aging trains that often fail to run in cold and snowy conditions. But many parents are already struggling to send their children to school, and finding the extra money for a fare hike seems like an unfair burden.
"It's going to be painful," says concerned parent Ruthann Leverett who already pays $26 each month for a Student T Pass for her 7th grade son who makes three bus transfers to get from his home in Dorchester to Cathedral High School in the South End. "Many families are already living paycheck to paycheck." The fare hikes are particularly daunting for families with two or more children who in some cases pay over $50 a month to get their children to school.
According to Kimberly Rice, Assistant Superintendent of Operations for the Boston Public Schools, students who are eligible for transportation per BPS policy receive either yellow bus transportation or a free T pass. Rice cites that BPS "tiers eligibility based on age/grade of the student so that elementary students receive transportation if they live outside of 1 mile, middle grades 1.5 miles, and high school students 2 miles." What this means is that high school students who live within 2 miles from their school who want to take the MBTA need to come up with the money to purchase their own Student T Pass.
Consider the implications. Students who live more than 2 miles away from school get a free 7-Day T Pass which allows them to get to and from school, work, and the hundreds of enriching opportunities that the City of Boston provides, while students who live closer to school have to pay for their monthly Student T Pass or pay regular fares on the T. It's an equity issue that has some low income parents choosing farther away schools so their child will have full access to free transportation to get around the city.
The majority of Boston students riding the T are from low income families of color. Many advocates are questioning whether the fare hikes are even equitable. The MBTA did a 67-page Impact Analysis on proposed fare hikes in 2015 and concluded that a fare increase would not cause any "disparate impacts or disproportionate burdens." However, this analysis did not look at the correlation between transportation and education in Boston. Rising T fares are disproportionately hard on families living in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan--where there is a lack of quality schools, and hence many children travel to other neighborhoods to find higher performing schools.
Rising fares will cost the cash-strapped Boston Public Schools an additional $1.4 million, which is ironic because last year BPS made the move to take all 7th and 8th graders off yellow school buses and put them on the MBTA to save money. Are these rising fares a backlash for having an additional 4,000+ teens and pre-teens on the T, or is it simply good economics where increasing demand and usage justifies driving up costs? Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, Chairman of the Education Committee, plans to investigate.
When families are faced with choosing quality schools in far away neighborhoods versus educating their children within walking distance closer to home, the issue of public transportation becomes an even greater issue of equity, access and opportunity for a quality education.
Students will not be the only ones affected by rising fares. Across the board, single fares are slated to increase by $0.10 cents and monthly fares will rise by almost $10. The Public Hearing will address Student T Passes and fare hikes for all riders. The Hearing will be held on Tuesday, February 2nd from 5-7 pm at the State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza in downtown Boston, in the Transportation Library, second floor. Parents and community residents are encouraged to come and give public comment. For the full schedule of MBTA Public Hearings across the state visit: the website.
Ayele Shakur is Chairman of the Education Committee for the Boston NAACP, and Regional Executive Director for BUILD. Follow her on Twitter @AyeleShakur