Letter: Minority Communities Disproportionately Impacted by Unprecedented Orange Line Shutdown

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As communities across Greater Boston feel the effects of the MBTA’s 30-day Orange Line shut down we the representatives of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA), with the support of the Coalition for an Equitable Economy, and the Asian Business Empowerment Council (ABEC) want to register our deep concern about the impact this shutdown will have on our community members, many of whom are Black and Asian residents that rely on the MBTA for transportation every day. 

The pause of one of the MBTA’s most popular subway lines affects a vital corridor connecting Boston’s downtown area to predominantly Black neighborhoods, including Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, Roxbury, and Mission Hill, as well as Asian workers and residents in Chinatown. 

Unfortunately, MBTA safety and efficiency issues have plagued the transit system for years. Accidents, derailments, and disruptions put people’s lives and livelihoods at risk, while also eroding trust in the system and its leadership. We have not been reassured by the quality of the MBTA’s prior mitigation efforts and now its communications to riders about this new initiative. Non-English speakers were the last to learn about the shutdown and consequently there have been no efforts to provide translated signage or easy access to interpretation services in advance, making these communities face a monumental task just to plan their commutes. Riders deserve a firm commitment from the MBTA that Orange Line service will significantly improve after this unprecedented diversion. The MBTA must also demonstrate that it can hold true to its commitment for the 30-day timeline and that it has strong oversight controls that were lacking during the recent Blue Line shutdown. 

As plans are made for this effort, minority contractors, including BECMA members, require clarity on how the MBTA will ensure business owners of color are engaged during this process. This is a massive infrastructure project that has the potential to create opportunities for people of color in these communities that are interested in entering the labor workforce. We continue to urge the MBTA to detail a concrete plan to prioritize diversity and inclusion for both subcontractors and the workforce that will be needed to execute the Orange Line project.

We applaud the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus for urging the MBTA to ensure that the businesses engaged in this project reflect the diverse communities along the Orange Line. Additionally, we are thankful to the leadership of Mayor Wu and Council President Flynn for engaging the community to push for adding shuttle stops in Chinatown. 

The effects of this shutdown will impact all of us. We need to work collaboratively to design an equitable solution, so the T’s future is brighter than its past.

Q.J. Shi, Director of the Asian Business Empowerment Council

Nicole Obi, President & CEO of BECMA

Tracye Whitfield, Executive Director of Coalition for an Equitable Economy