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Ayanna Pressley, Ed Markey call for elimination of fares on T during Orange Line shutdown logo 8/5/2022 Dialynn Dwyer

Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Ed Markey are calling for MBTA fares to be dropped when the unprecedented 30-day shutdown of the entire Orange Line begins in two weeks.

The two Bay State Democrats issued a joint statement on Thursday, calling the month-long shutdown “devastating.”

“This disruptive decision is yet another consequence of the historic underinvestment and mismanagement of the T, and it is shameful for the first public transportation system in the country to be forced into decisions like this,” the politicians said. “Riders should not be forced to carry the burden.”

Pressley and Markey raised concerns that the lack of rail service on the line that stretches from Oak Grove in Malden to Forest Hills in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood will be particularly harmful to “Black, brown, disabled, low-income, and other marginalized communities” depending on public transit for getting to work, school, and grocery stores, among other critical destinations.

“To mitigate the impact of this harmful shutdown, we urge the MBTA to make all subway and bus lines, including the Blue, Red, Green and Silver lines, fare-free for the duration of the Orange Line shutdown,” they wrote. “Implementing fare-free transit will help ensure that transit-reliant riders—including those whose commutes will undoubtedly be indirectly impacted by this disruption in service—are not financially impacted, while also promoting connectivity, accessibility, sustainability, and addressing the transit gaps that have deepened the racial and economic disparities in our communities.”

Eliminating fares across the MBTA would also help lower costs for riders at a time of rising inflation, the politicians argued.

They said that sufficient resources have been appropriated by Congress for service to be made free during the shutdown.

“The state has let riders down, and riders shouldn’t have to shoulder both the inconvenience and the cost,” Pressley and Markey said. “Public transit is a public good and transit justice is a racial, economic, disability, and climate justice issue.”

Both Pressley and Markey last year, along with then-City Councilor Michelle Wu, re-introduced the Freedom to Move Act, legislation to fully fund fare-free transit.

Pressley and Markey aren’t the only politicians raising concerns about how the looming Orange Lane shutdown will impact their constituents.

The mayors of Melrose, Malden, and Medford sent a letter to MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak a day after the closure was announced, requesting the transit agency offer express bus service from Oak Grove, Malden Station, and Wellington to Boston for the 30 days.

So far, the MBTA has outlined that shuttle buses will replace service and that the agency also plans to “enhance” commuter rail options for those that rely on the Orange Line. Transit officials are also encouraging Orange Line riders to work from home if possible, urging “employers with hybrid work policies to allow employees to work from home as much as possible.”

“A station-to-station shuttle will likely be overcrowded and will be subject to significant and unavoidable delays,” the mayors wrote on Thursday to the MBTA. “Creating express, direct-to-Boston routes from [Oak Grove, Malden Station, and Wellington] stations using Route 93 will create more efficient and predictable service and will relieve pressure on the rest of the shuttle and commuter rail system.”

The mayors are also urging the MBTA to explore “all options to increase the frequency of service” on the Haverhill commuter rail line.

Following news of the approaching shutdown, Mayor Michelle Wu said Boston will work closely with the MBTA to “support immediate planning and ongoing monitoring of alternative shuttles and diversions so the system can quickly address the safety and reliability concerns highlighted in recent weeks.”

Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Boston’s chief of streets, said on Twitter the city is working with the MBTA to implement temporary shuttle bus priority in the city in order to help the vehicles “operate as best they can.”

Those efforts are starting with looking at the locations with the most issues and “looking at everything from curb space to signals to dedicated lanes.”

“Implementing bus priority isn’t just throwing out cones and hoping for the best,” Franklin-Hodge said. “It requires materials, enforcement, signage, public communication, planning for things like accessible parking, business loading, and intersection safety. We are building that plan.”

The city is also working to enhance Blue Bike service, coordinating with Boston Public Schools to ensure students can get to school, and helping the T in its outreach to non-English speaking communities.

“We don’t have the luxury of time for planning, but we must make sure our changes deliver benefits for riders, don’t create safety issues for those on foot or bike, and let businesses continue to function,” Franklin-Hodge said. “There is no playbook for this, so we’re going to write one as we go.”

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