MBTA service cut are a climate issue: The Climate Minute

At a time when carbon emissions from transportation constitute growing fraction of the state's total, the COVID pandemic has cut ridership on the MBTA. In response, the T is proposing dramatic service cuts. These cuts will have long time implications for how we address climate change.

The reading list:

The KIngston Trio sings about Charlie on the MTA

With that drastic drop in ridership, the MBTA has proposed drastic service cuts that, if approved, would be rolled out next year. “We do this with great regret,” said MBTA general manager Steve Poftak in an interview. “This is an unprecedented financial situation. . . . We are doing our best to manage through this.”

That perspective implies that the pandemic-controlled world we see today is the world we will be looking at six months or even a year from now; that people won’t be flocking back to Boston to work and play anytime soon; that there will be no new revenue to fill the gaps from their absence.


 The general manager of the MBTA said he would suggest deferring some critical decisions on the service cuts until February, when the agency formally embarks on its fiscal year 2022 budgeting process


Transit advocates worry that the proposed MBTA cutbacks will weaken a system that was already struggling before the pandemic. Housing advocates, too, are concerned. They say closing commuter rail stations and reducing subway frequency flies in the face of a decade of state housing policy largely designed around the notion that the best place to build new homes in a traffic-choked place like Greater Boston is next to a train stop.


Recently, the MBTA approved a contract to replace 32 diesel-electric buses with 45 “enhanced electric hybrid buses.” This sounds really good because you hear “electric” and “hybrid,” but EEH buses are really the same diesel buses that they have been buying for the last 15 years, just with a large battery pack.

If they'd come out and said, 'These are diesel buses with extended-range batteries,' that would have been a lot less of an issue. They literally just stripped diesel out of the name of the vehicle; this is what I meant when I called the plan “greenwashing.”


This EEH moniker is a particularly insidious example of “greenwashing.” The proposed model is a New Flyer XDE60 model. “X” refers to the model (Xcelsior) and “60” refers to the length of the bus. “DE” describes the drivetrain: diesel-electric hybrid. EEH conveniently leaves out the fossil-fuel origin of all of the power for the bus. In fact, except for some compressed natural gas buses, all but the oldest members of the MBTA’s bus fleet are “hybrid” buses.


The Advisory Board’s view is that risk of permanent loss of ridership, increased congestion, and other negative effects of service cuts to people and communities is too high a price to pay right now, just as a vaccine is on the horizon.”

Many parts of the T’s proposal, such as pausing capital projects and reallocating federal funds, are viable and important, the board said in its report. But the Advisory Board found the T’s math to be unnecessarily cautious.


"I don't want to see any of my residents hurt by the cuts," Koch said. "The bus route is the world to each individual that uses it."


Because we recognize the necessity of personal accountability for our actions, because we accept responsibility for a building a durable future and because we believe it is our patriotic duty as citizens to speak out, we must insist the United States transform it’s energy sector, over the next decade, under a just and equitable plan, that uses regulations, investments and a price on carbon to safeguard our collective future.

Thanks for listening.

…Ted McIntyre

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