To the anonymous author of last week’s article on the forthcoming MBTA student discount,
As a newly elected senator in the Undergraduate Student Government at the University of Massachusetts Boston, I am deeply offended by your assault on the democratic process. While it is absolutely a problem that only 492 students voted in the election, that is no grounds on which to call for the invalidation of the ballot question. That is, frankly, not how democracy works.
To claim that this single ballot question ought to be abrogated on account of low voter turnout implies that the entire election itself should be nullified. When you ask, “Are we going to let less than one percent of students represent the entire entity of UMass Boston?” you speak with specific regards to this individual issue, yet offer no reasoning as to why this question alone is in this position. Both the GSA Vice President and Treasurer positions passed by similar margins to that of Referendum Question 1; where is your lamentation at their elections? Every single senatorial candidate received less than ten times as many votes as Referendum Question 1, and yet you seemingly have nothing to say. By virtue of what you neglect to show outrage toward, you betray that your argument is not borne from actual concern for the ethics of the situation, but rather an impulse to find any possible angle from which to argue against the ratification of a political decision you disagree with.
While we like to believe that the democratic process is perfectly representative of the will of the people, the reality is that such systems can only ever represent that portion of the populace who decide to vote, and those who relinquish their right to vote likewise relinquish their right to have their will represented in the election. The school took copious measures to ensure that knowledge of USG elections was spread across campus, and the language of Referendum Question 1 was clearly stated on the ballot. Everybody had a chance to cast an informed vote. It is unfortunate that only 492 students voted, but you cannot say that this quantity “did not represent the diverse community UMass Boston is so proud of,” as this is the portion of the student body who chose to be represented.
Furthermore, the math you used in calculating the percentage of students who voted in favor of Referendum Question 1 is flat-out wrong. Two hundred and fifty-eight is not 0.016 percent of 16,000: it is 1.6 percent, as I suspect you forgot to multiply your product by 100 after dividing the portion by the whole to calculating the percentage. Yet, even my corrected percentage is not accurate, as you have calculated the percentage of voters using the total student body, while only undergraduate students were able to vote on this question—as it is only from their tuition that the fee will be collected. If we recalculate the percentage of students who voted “yay” by the number of undergraduate students (roughly 12,500 as of fall 2018 ), we will see that the true portion of the undergraduate student body who voted for the increased subsidies is roughly two percent.
Not a vast quantity, but still 125 times greater than the amount you speculated.
There is also an error in your calculation of the quantity of students who take the MBTA to school. While it is only roughly three to six percent of students who purchase passes through the school, this number does not reflect the number of students who take the T to school. While it would be greatly difficult to discover how many students actually do take the T to school, I will personally attest that, of the many people I know who do commute via train, nobody purchases school passes. As it stands, there are many conceivable reasons why one may decide to obtain their Charlie Card through the school, the most common being that students are, at present, required to pay for their semester’s pass in a lump-sum, before the semester begins. While an 11 percent discount is a discount nonetheless, many students find it more financially feasible to pay $84.50 each month than $300.82 for a standard bus and train pass at the beginning of the semester. While the new plan still requires students to pay up-front, the $169 passes are a much more manageable expenditure.
When you cite the problems which may drive people away from the MBTA after previously explaining how troublesome costs of “gas, insurance, and regular maintenance,” you inadvertently hint toward another issue with your own argument. While car ownership is not so expensive as to be unavailable to the middle-class, UMass Boston serves a relatively large quantity of low-income students, for whom the cost of a car would be too much. Furthermore, inconvenient as the broken elevators may be (which are currently under maintenance, not, as you would imply, left to the dogs), the MBTA is still vastly more handicap-friendly than owning your own car—or do you think that a student whose legs don’t work and is currently riding shuttle buses in between train stations with broken elevators may actually have a more convenient time getting to school by purchasing a car and stepping on the gas pedal?
On top of all this, drivers are not, as you would say, entirely ignored by school subsidies and facilities. The West Parking Garage is already partially maintained through tuition, and if parking seems expensive now, I can’t imagine you would want to see what it would look like if students had to pay for the building’s entire construction and maintenance through daily parking passes. Furthermore, you emphasize the word “free” when talking about the No. 1 shuttle as if the word “shuttle” didn’t already imply as much. Well, if you think that students who take the T are getting preferential treatment on account of their “free shuttle,” then I must ask you, is the shuttle that takes drivers from campus to the Bayside lot paid? You’ll have to tell me, I’ve never taken it.
While there will always be some students who, due to their location, can only travel by car to the school, many students who commute by car could do so by train (though it may, perhaps, take a bit longer), while many students who go by train actually cannot afford to own a car. You are right in asserting that the discount now provided to T goers is more than that given to drivers, but I would rebut that those taking the T are more in need of these discounts.
You further ignore the economic position of students who take the T when you claim that, “students who do not take the train to school pay extra costs already, including facing residence hall prices averaging at $16,243 per year, and rooms in surrounding complexes ranging from $1,200–$2,400 per bedroom,” implying that students who do commute by train have nothing but the train to pay for. Well, since you obviously don’t take the train to school yourself, let me tell you that Charlie Cards (subsidized or not), do not come with room and board. Students on the train are just as beholden to finding housing as those who walk and drive, and while some do live with their parents for free, there are also plenty of drivers who do so as well.
Plus, it is not only students who commute to school via the MBTA who are benefitted by this new discount. With the new price of school-subsidized Charlie Cards, it will be cheaper for many students who live on, or close to, campus to get such passes through the school, instead of paying for each trip separately when they want to go into the city. While this may not be exciting for all dorm and Harbor Point residents, anybody who likes going out on evenings and weekends would do well to get themselves a discounted train pass. These new subsidies are for everyone, not just the more than three to six percent of students who commute by train.
You also say that, “a better step into 100 percent renewable energy would be advocating for more bike usage, and walking to campus.” Well, to this let me say that if it were feasible for me to walk from my house in Medford all the way to Dorchester, I would, but as of now I don’t have the time, and given that the hour-long bike ride would quickly become unpleasant with any quantity of weather (which the Boston area is quite prone to), I’ll take the less—though still undeniably adequately—green method of riding the bus to the train and then to the school.
At the heart of your article is the implication that no student should have to pay for anything that they don’t utilize themselves. But this isn’t how universities work. You say that you “do not think English majors would like to split the lab fee costs with biology majors,” ignoring the fact that they already kind of do. Our tuition already gets pooled together to pay for all aspects of the university. While lab fees may cover some of the extra costs required to run such a class, English majors already helped pay for the construction of the lab itself. Imagine how disparate our tuition would look if English majors actually only had to pay for the teachers' salary and some books, while STEM majors had to cover 100 percent of their equipment. We have always been paying for things we don’t use at UMass Boston, and it is only when something gets too expensive that we decide to make the students who are actually using it pay more. The difference with Referendum Question 1 is that the amount and manner in which we are paying for these things is suddenly transparent. Really though, everybody chipping for part of the lab and bio majors taking care of the rest is exactly what is happening with Charlie Cards; let’s not forget that the students still have to pay for the other half of their passes, after all.