Use Gas Tax Increase To Make MBTA Bus Rides Free, New Boston City Council President Says

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The new president of the Boston City Council wants to use a proposed increase in the state’s gasoline tax to make public-transportation bus rides free throughout the city of Boston.

“Let’s find new ways to tackle old problems, like free MBTA buses to increase ridership and improve traffic flow in our city,” said Kim Janey, shortly after being elected to president during a city council meeting Monday, January 6. “… This is a climate justice issue, but it’s also an economic justice issue. Income inequality is a persistent and pervasive problem facing our city, our commonwealth, and our country.”

She expanded on the idea during an interview with State House News Service.

“If we had a gas tax, an additional gas tax, maybe that revenue could be invested so we could offer free bus rides,” Janey said, according to State House News Service. “That is the purpose of bringing our work and our meetings into the neighborhoods to really engage residents who are actually riding these buses, like myself, and hearing their ideas and solutions for how we do this work and, really, then not being afraid to take on the MBTA or the governor or any entity. I want to bring us all together.”

Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, has expressed opposition to a big increase in the state’s gas tax, something that Democratic leaders in the state Legislature seem to be leaning toward.

Janey and another city councilor, Michelle Wu, have called for making the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Route 28 bus from Mattapan to Ruggles Station free of charge for riders, even without a gas tax increase.

State Representative Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan), whose district includes the Route 28 bus route, expressed support for getting rid of bus fares on the route and for an expansion of public transportation.

“If we can find some way of getting it done through our neighborhood, that would be fantastic,” Holmes told State House News Service on Monday. “But not just, I think, on 28, the bus line, but also how can we get more rapid transit, period. I’m looking for bus rapid transit all through the district. The bus line, as they say, Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect. I’m trying to give it some respect.”

Janey won the votes of 12 out of the 13 city councilors. Councilor Frank Baker voted present.

During her speech, Janey celebrated the turnover on the City Council from the November 2019 city election in identity-politics terms.

“For the first time ever, this council is majority women. Yes,” Janey said to applause. “And majority people of color. And this council now includes its first openly gay woman, and its first Latina. Representation matters, and this body is much more representative of the city that we all love and serve.”

Janey identified herself as “a daughter of Roxbury,” which she called “ground zero for many of the inequities of our city,” including what she called “am enormous wealth gap.”

She mentioned fighting climate change and promoting racial minorities to get marijuana shop licenses as among the recent accomplishments of the Boston City Council.

Janey also took a shot at President Donald Trump. without specifying an issue.

“The dangerous decisions coming out of the White House are putting us all at risk and jeopardizing our ability to live out the American dream. Now, more than ever, we have to act at the local level,” Janey said.

Janey also called for revisiting payments in lieu of taxes that nonprofit organizations with significant revenue surpluses and significant property holdings pay to the city of Boston. The payments are voluntary, since nonprofit organizations are exempt from property taxes. They are often far below the amount property taxes would bring in.

One example is Harvard University, the largest owner of private property in the city of Boston.

Janey replaces Andrea Campbell as president of the city council. Janey’s term as president is expected to last two years.

The Boston City Council became less ideologically diverse in the November election, as conservative and Trump supporter Althea Garrison lost her re-election bid. She finished seventh out of eight at-large candidates. The top four were elected.