A bumpy road lies ahead for commuters in Westwood.
Recently-proposed changes in service and fees by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority could leave both riders of the train or bus, as well as commuters who drive into Boston, in a tight spot.
Currently the MBTA is facing a fiscal crisis - a $161 million gap in the budget for Fiscal Year 2013 - that is leaving the organization to weigh two options. One is fare increases, the other is cuts in service.
"It's a troubling thing to see occur," said Westwood Town Administrator Mike Jaillet. "It is heading in the very direction of where we believe we shouldn't be heading."
But despite the proposed changes, the MBTA is looking at other solutions to avoid such measures, and is urging for sustainable funding and support from Gov. Deval Patrick and State Legislature to help reconcile the current debt.
"These proposed service cuts and fare increases will financially burden today’s commuters, worsen traffic congestion, damage the environment, and impede economic growth for years to come," the MBTA said in a statement last week. "They will disproportionately harm households that depend on public transit as their major or sole means of transportation: the young, the old, people with disabilities, and families of modest means."
The Low-Down on Service Cuts
Due to the fiscal turmoil, the MBTA has proposed two scenarios, both of which include elimination of several bus routes, all ferries, and commuter rail service after 10 p.m. and on weekends:
- Scenario 1: An increase in fares by 43 percent.
- Scenario 2: An increase in fares by 35 percent, but with drastic cuts to bus service.
Regardless of the scenario, the changes would result in lower ridership and increased vehicular traffic. The MBTA is estimating a resulting loss of ridership of up to 16 percent, or 64 million trips a year.
Moreover, under Scenario 1, total auto miles traveled daily will increase by 431,000, while under Scenario 2 they would increase by 626,000, according to the MBTA.
What This Means for Westwood
Planning Board Vice Chairman Steve Olanoff is also the town's designee on the MBTA advisory board. He said users of all forms of service would be affected.
"I've gone to these hearings, and you hear people say how they would be affected and I realize how other programs would be affected and it goes on and on," Olanoff said. "If it went into effect, the biggest thing for Westwood people is probably the commute rail. And the fact that if you couldn't use it after 10, that combined with the weekend means people who want to go into town and do things, particularly on the weekends, would be affected. I take the train if I go to the symphony in Boston or others things and it works great."
But the changes wouldn't just affect the commuters, Olanoff said. They could also affect development projects in town, such as the long-stalled Westwood Station project.
"How is that going to look to developers now?," Olanoff asked. "Who's going to live there if they can't come home after 10 p.m."
An increase in vehicular traffic was also of concern to Olanoff.
"The way our traffic is now, all it takes is a few more cars for traffic to go from slow to a standstill," he said. "And that's what's going to happen. There are people that don't have a choice. There are plenty of people like that."
Some residents said cuts in service would not directly affect them, while other said it would pose a headache.
"I rode the train daily for a two-year period when I was commuting into Boston," said Glenn Parsons, a senior at Westwood High School, who commuted to work near South Station in Boston from 2007 through 2009. "Depending upon how the service may be cut, it could have created quite a difficulty for me at the time."
Westwood resident Mike Bowler has been using the commuter rail to get to Boston for work for the past 17 years, and said he noticed a cut back in conductors on the trains during the last two years.
"Over the course of the past six months, I have been hearing about possible fare increases, as well as service cutbacks and am not surprised," said Bowler, who commutes from Rte. 128 Station. "I would be very surprised if rates were not increased, and am concerned that there is talk of 30-50 percent increases, which I think is excessive."
Bowler said a monthly Zone 2 pass from Rte. 128 Station averages around $151 per month, he said, and adding to that the $5 cost to park each day.
"A 30 percent increase in the monthly commuter rail pass would increase the total cost to $296, and at 50 percent it would total $326 per month," he said. "At these levels I think many more people would drive in to town."
But he added that he would not be directly affected unless the MBTA were to cut service between 6 and 8 p.m.
"While I take the train to Boston and back every day, I never take the train on weekends, and seldom take trains later than 9 p.m. on weekdays," he said.