Residents Assail Bus Privatization

At a public meeting Wednesday night at City Hall, Cambridge residents spoke out against the plan of Gov. William F. Weld '66 to privatize the bus lines of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

Organizers intended the meeting, titled "Bus Service in the City of Cambridge," to provide a forum for city residents to communicate their transportation concerns to MBTA officials and city leaders.

But MBTA officials were tightlipped when speakers' questions turned to the governor's plan to privatize the city's buses by Jan. 1, 1997.

Cambridge residents in turn attacked the governor as a blue-blood who is out of touch with the common people.

"Bill Weld has never been on a bus," said Cambridge bus driver Brian Rogerson. "He has his limo waiting for him every day."


Others made more substantive criticisms of the governor's proposal.

Brian Rodgerson, a bus driver and member of Carmen's Union Local 589, warned that privatization will increase costs and decrease service. He pointed to the Harvard Square T station, filled with litter and frequently waiting for repairs to the escalator, to demonstrate the ill effects of subcontracting.

He cautioned the predominantly older audience that a private company might discontinue senior citizens' rates and increase fares overall.

But in an interview after the meeting, MBTA spokesperson Brian Pedro said privatization will not hurt service.

"We'll turn off the lights as we leave one night, and they'll come in and turn them on the next day," Pedro said.

The plan for a "virtual MBTA," first announced by Weld last March, will put almost every aspect of the MBTA's bus operation in the hands of private companies. The MBTA begins accepting private proposals on Nov. 15.

According to Pedro, the 65-cent fare currently charged on the buses recovers only between 30 and 40 percent of the actual operating costs, which include the highest pay for bus drivers in the country.

Instead of saving money by raising fares--which Pedro called "a bitter pill the riders wouldn't be ready to swallow"--or cutting back on service, the MBTA decided to privatize, a move which it estimates will save $27 million annually.

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