October 28, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
For those who wish to make their voices heard in opposition to proposed MBTA Hingham/Hull ferry, Greenbush commuter rail, and other service cuts that include the possible elimination of ferry service, there's still time.
The https://www.savetheferry.org/ website -- started by Hull resident Jason McCann -- details ways citizens of Hull, Hingham, Cohasset, Scituate, and beyond can stay informed, sign local petitions and participate in polls, leave a voicemail or submit written comments to the MBTA, attend important MBTA hearings, post on social media using #savetheferry, spread the word -- and most importantly, share their personal stories of what public transportation -- including ferry and rail service -- means to them and how these proposed service cuts, if imposed, would change their lives.
The MBTA has experienced and continues to forecast a reduction in ridership and an accompanying significant drop in revenue ( roughly a $500 million deficit) due to COVID-19.
As a result, the MBTA is proposing major service cuts. Roughly 50 percent of Hingham and Cohasset commuters normally take public transit.
During a 1-1/2-hour conversation, Reps. Joan Meschino and James Murphy, Sen. Patrick O'Connor, and South Shore Chamber of Commerce CEO & President Peter Forman provided updates from their perspectives. About 50 people were on the call.
Meschino predicted that any cuts in service "would likely be permanent and could happen as early as this spring," although nothing has yet been decided. "You can't turn ferry and commuter rail service off and on like a light switch," she said.
Meschino, O'Connor, and Murphy are working closely with South Shore communities to oppose the proposed cuts. Forman outlined the Chamber's concerns should the service cut proposals become a reality, including impacts on existing and planned affordable housing and Smart Growth developments that are built around public transportation.
"Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency and asked us to work from home. We are doing that, and ridership has declined precipitously," Meschino said. "Now we're working to reopen the economy, but the ridership numbers aren't anywhere near where they were before COVID-19."
At the same time, the MBTA said some services, if cut, could be restored as ridership ramps up.
There's a two-week window between now and the next meeting on Monday, Nov. 9, for opponents to express their views and get involved. The MBTA is expected to make a decision as to which services to cut or eliminate on Dec. 7.
"Time is short," Meschino said. "We've tried to activate every stakeholder we can think of. Now is the time to speak up."
Murphy advocated for "making the case that ferry and commuter rail service are very important to the South Shore. We need to keep them running."
Updates about upcoming meetings and other information, including how to submit concerns, are posted on the https://www.savetheferry.org/ website.
In the meantime, Meschino asked those who oppose the proposed cuts in all South Shore communities that would be negatively impacted to sign the petition posted on the Town of Hull website: https://www.town.hull.ma.us/ which more than 5,100 individuals have already done.
Selectman Joseph Fisher suggested that either the town or a Hingham resident or group of residents start a petition to oppose commuter rail cuts, since the one on the Hull website relates to the ferry. "The more petitions the better," he said.
The Hingham Selectmen are planning to send a letter to the MBTA, the Mass. Dept. of Transportation, and other government agencies to oppose any cuts. The board talked about the letter at last night's meeting and have posted another one this Thursday at 6 p.m. to discuss what it should include and then take a vote.
Fisher suggested that the letter focus on public health -- "The time to eliminate ferry service is not during a pandemic, because riders can be outside in the fresh air" -- the increased greenhouse emissions that would occur if more cars are back on the road; and the impacts on Smart Growth -- including Hingham Shipyard development, which is built around ferry service.
"We want to ensure that the informed questions and comments from community members are included," Selectmen Chair Mary Power said.
She went on to note that the Shipyard intermodal center was a big investment, and that resident Martha Bewick's comments about the importance of maintaining Boston Harbor Islands ferry service made sense.
Forman said the Chamber not only opposes any major cuts in service but also believes there may be another, sustainable option that might involve a transportation system funded and run by other than the MBTA.
O'Connor explained that for the current fiscal year the MBTA is receiving COVID-related CARES Act funding to help close the deficit, but warned that at some point "they'll reach a cliff and the federal money will run out. Once that happens, there will be a structural deficit."
A couple of residents said they moved to Hingham because of the commuter rail and/or ferry. "I don't like driving to Boston, and if ferry service is canceled I would move out of town," said Tom Swenson, a resident of the Shipyard.
Another resident asked if the town had considered litigation, but Meschino and Fisher said it would be premature to consider such action at this time.
"There are so many reasons to fight this fight," Selectman William Ramsey said.