Mayor Martin Walsh creates business opportunities for women and minorities

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PHOTO BY SAVANAH MACDONALD

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh signed an executive order Wednesday to ensure equal opportunity for women- and minority-owned businesses, according to a Wednesday press release.

According to the release, the order takes several steps to “address racial and economic disparities” in Boston.

“This Executive Order sets spending goals for minority and women owned businesses competing for contracts in construction, architecture and engineering and professional services,” the release stated. “Additionally, the City will provide training and assistance to minority and women owned enterprises to encourage successful bidding and performance on City contracts.”

Karilyn Crockett, director of economic policy and research for the City of Boston, explained the importance of increasing the participation of minority- and women-owned businesses in getting city contracts.

“There are more than 40,000 small businesses in this city, and it’s really important that we support and nourish the growth of these businesses,” Crockett said. “For businesses owned by women and people of color, it’s really important that the city has a way of engaging these businesses so that they can grow their bottom line and increase their capacity so that they’re able to compete for larger and larger city contracts and contracts with the state as well.”

Efforts to aid women- and minority-owned businesses in the contracting process have been successful in the past. According to Crockett, Walsh and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker partnered in November to create a streamlined cross-certification process for businesses owned by women that made it easier for them to navigate and take advantage of public contracts.

According to the release, the order will pave the way for a new disparity study that will analyze racial, ethnic and gender bias in city procurement. The study is expected to launch by the end of this year and will lead to further examination of policies and goals that encourage the use of minority- and women-owned businesses.

Constance Armstrong, executive director of the woman-leadership advocacy group The Boston Club, praised the mayor for his efforts toward making city contracts accessible for all.

“The Boston Club applauds Mayor Walsh’s efforts to level the playing field for minority and women-owned businesses competing for city contracts,” Armstrong wrote in an email. “The Club, whose research since 2003 has consistently found significant gender disparities on the boards and in C-suites of the top public companies in the state, welcomes the city’s disparity study to analyze racial, ethnic and gender bias in City procurement.”

Several Boston area professors shared their thoughts on the new order. Carrie Preston, director of Boston University’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, wrote in an email that she supports the mayor’s order but also thinks more needs to be done to fix gender bias in the city.

“Boston has a terrible history of racial, ethnic, and gender bias, as well as a reputation for cronyism and inequity in awarding city contracts and jobs,” Preston wrote in an email. “Mayor Walsh is taking important steps towards improving Boston, but much more needs to be done to achieve the necessary cultural transformation. That’s going to take partnerships between the city and other local institutions, including universities.”

Kamran Dadkhah, a professor of economics at Northeastern University, wrote in an email that there are potential limitations of the order.

“Diversity and ensuring equal opportunities for women and minority owned businesses are lofty goals,” Dadkhah wrote in an email. “One disturbing aspect of Mayor Walsh’s executive order is that it seems to establish a quota system. Quota systems are wrong tools and policy options for fighting discrimination or trying to ensure equal opportunities. Indeed, in the long run quota systems harm the interest of those it was intended to help, that is, women and minorities.”

Several Boston residents shared their opinions of the order.

Jamie Ahu, 31, of Back Bay, said while she believes it’s a good idea to give women more opportunities, they shouldn’t be pushed into certain industries.

“I think that if women are interested, then we should definitely encourage them to do so and provide the opportunities,” she said. “But if women aren’t flocking to a certain industry, I don’t think that it’s something that we should push them into if it’s not something they want to do. What if you start excluding people that are more qualified than these women or other minorities … because they’re a white male? Then you don’t give them that opportunity?”

Kevin Hartman, 58, of Kenmore, said he supports the order’s efforts to make things more equal.

“I think the order will level the playing field a little more for those who don’t know how to bid [for city contracts] and those bid all the time and know how to,” he said.

Juanita Duran, 31, of Brighton, said she hopes more people find out about the order.

“The city should publicize it more so that more people are informed,” she said. “As a minority woman, I think the order is great for the city.”

Originally published here: http://dailyfreepress.com/2016/02/29/mayor-martin-walsh-creates-opportunities-for-businesses-owned-by-women-and-minorities/

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MBTA removes Late-Night Service hours from operators’ work schedules

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PHOTO BY SARAH SILBIGER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority removed Late-Night Service hours from employees’ schedules for the month of March, according to MBTA spokesperson Jason Johnson.

“MBTA bus and train operators have begun picking their work for the spring timetable, and the schedules from which they choose their work do not include late night service routes,” Johnson wrote in an email.

Johnson said the removal of the service from schedules is only a precaution and not symbolic of a decision to end Late-Night Service.

“The schedules were posted without the late night routes because it is less difficult to add service than it is to remove it,” Johnson wrote in an email. “If the operators pick work today that doesn’t exist in the spring, they are still entitled to be paid for it. If a decision is made to maintain the service in the spring, the MBTA will see to it that the service is indeed provided.”

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board will meet to consider the Late-Night Service Feb. 29, according to Johnson.

Peter Furth, a professor at Northeastern University, explained why the MBTA would remove the service from schedules before making a final decision about the future of the service.

“Once schedules are made, you have to pay people for their schedules and if you say, ‘OK, we’re not running that service,’ you still have to pay those people,” Furth said. “Every operator is guaranteed eight hours of work.”

Furth also discussed the economic need to cut Late-Night Service.

“When the fare that a person pays is always going to be the same, [riders are] paying $2 for a subway ride, but the average cost of providing that subway ride becomes $10 or $15,” Furth said. “It’s just not worth it, because the person is only paying $2. Now who’s paying the other $8? It’s all of us collectively, by subsidizing.”

Barbara Jacobson, programs director for the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, said the MBTA should focus on its riders and providing them with the services they need.

“By limiting service while increasing the price per ride, it sends a negative message to the user base, and in order for sustainable transportation, public transportation to be taken seriously,” Jacobson said. “Issues of accessibility and maintenance need to be the forefront of the discussion. So ensuring that the MBTA continues to deliver service to people who need it the most should be at the forefront of the discussion.”

Jacobson emphasized the importance of the service for restaurant employees and patrons.

“If the Late-Night T Service is cut, it would have a negative impact for a variety of users throughout the City of Boston, notably people who work in the restaurant industry who need to use the subway to get to and from their jobs, as restaurants close later than other businesses throughout the city,” Jacobson said. “It will also negatively impact patrons to businesses throughout the city as well.”

Several Boston residents shared their opinions on the decision.

Kelly Daigle, 27, of East Boston, said Late-Night Service benefits restaurant customers but not the workers themselves.

“For restaurant workers, it doesn’t run all week, which is when I would need it,” she said. “And usually if you’re working in a restaurant as a bartender, you might even be getting out later than the late-night T runs. [The T] is for the people who are going to restaurants and staying until it closes, not necessarily for the people who work there.”

Daigle also discussed why it might appear that the service isn’t commonly used.

“It just wasn’t around long enough for people to develop habits around using a late-night T,” she said. “If they were better at advertising what the hours were and giving people a more predictable schedule, we might be using it more readily.”

Helen Anis, 67, of Allston, noted that cutting Late-Night Service would also affect those arriving at the airport.

“If they shut it down, it would impact airport workers who have to come in in the middle of the night, students who go out partying and the rest of us who just like to go out to shows and things,” she said. “People who are delayed at the airport and come in at like 1 in the morning will have to take a cab.”

Leo Gomes, 33, of Kenmore, said even though he has never used Late-Night Service, it is still important.

“When I go out, I usually take an Uber or something like that,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to shut it down. I think it’s much better for the whole population for the T to work longer hours.”

Originally published here: http://dailyfreepress.com/2016/02/18/mbta-removes-late-night-service-from-employees-work-schedules/

Uber Boston partners with accessibility advocates

February 10, 2016

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PHOTO BY SARAH SILBIGER/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Uber Boston announced last week that it would partner with three accessibility advocates in Massachusetts to help better accommodate the disabled community, a press release stated last Wednesday.

Uber will be partnering with the Disability Law Center, the Disability Policy Consortium and the Boston Center for Independent Living to provide increased mobility for all riders, according to the release. The groups will meet with Uber in the coming months to discuss how Uber can accommodate transportation options for all.

“As we look to the future for Uber Boston, we’re excited about the increased mobility and freedom our technology has afforded both riders and drivers with accessibility needs, and we’re proud to have partnered with accessibility advocates and leaders to introduce product innovations that facilitate greater economic opportunity for deaf and hard-of-hearing drivers,” the press release stated.

Karen Schneiderman, a community outreach worker at the Boston Center for Independent Living, said BCIL’s partnership with Uber is meant to provide an alternative to The Ride service for passengers with disabilities.

“The reason for [an Uber partnership] is that it is less expensive for the state than subsidizing The Ride, which is the paratransit service that people with disabilities use if they can’t use buses and subways,” Schneiderman said. “The cost of using the ride is expensive and you also have to call days in advance to schedule it, but with Uber, you can call the same day.”

John Winske, executive director of the Disability Policy Consortium, wrote in an email statement that the DPC is enthusiastic about its partnership with Uber.

“Uber and the DPC are innovative organizations,” Winske wrote. “I’m sure that working with our partners we will find ways to improve accessibility to persons with disabilities while respecting Uber’s unique structure and business plan.”

Christine Griffin, executive director of the Disability Law Center, said it is important to create solutions for existing transportation issues in the disabled community.

“We are looking forward to working with the [disabled] community to find out what their needs are and then brainstorming with Uber about the ways that they can make sure that they provide full access for everybody, since everyone who uses Uber seems to love the service,” Griffin said. “The disability community deserves to have a quick and reliable component of transportation.”

Several residents shared their thoughts on Uber’s commitment to making transportation more accessible.

Anya Burzynski, 24, of the South End, said Uber becoming more accessible would impact all citizens, disabled or not.

“I used to work at a dental clinic and we had a lot of people who needed The Ride, but they were always late because they were understaffed,” she said. “So if there was some way that Uber could be more accommodating to those people and it was affordable, that would make a huge difference not only for the people taking those rides, but also for providers and practitioners who are waiting on the other.”

Kate Martens, 30, of Brighton, said Uber’s goal to provide better disability services is a complex issue with many matters to consider.

“It’s so complicated because I think, of course, people with disabilities need to be accommodated and need to be accounted for, but on the other hand, I think Uber is taking a service that’s been standardized and top-down and corporate, and making it by the people, for the people,” she said. “So it’s harder to have that infrastructure when it’s a little bit more ad hoc.”

Martens added that Uber now has a responsibility to ensure accessibility because of its popularity amongst city residents.

“It’s an interesting issue, but again, as Uber becomes more and more ubiquitous and it’s what everybody uses, it’s certainly what I use,” she said. “I think they do need to catch up and think about everybody, and not just the people who are usually represented.”

Laney Monsey, 27, Back Bay, applauded Uber for expanding its customer base.

“It’s great that they’re doing that,” she said. “I think Uber realized they had some issues when they first started out being customer friendly across all dimensions and having a diverse customer base. I think it’s great that they’re doing more to reach those who need those rides and providing affordable options for them.”

Massachusetts Senate proposes reform for public records law

February 2, 2016

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PHOTO BY BRIAN SONG/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Massachusetts Senate proposed new legislation to help reform the commonwealth’s current public records law, according to a Thursday press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

The Senate will vote on the bill this week and, if passed, the new law will award attorneys’ fees to citizens whose access to public records is wrongly denied, limit the fees that agencies can charge citizens to access their records and require agencies to respond to requests within 10 days, according to the release.

In the release, Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, praised the Senate’s continued efforts to reform the existing public records laws.

“These are the practical, tested reforms that are needed to make the law more than just empty words on a page,” Rose said in the release. “We’ve described the current law as a flashlight without working batteries. This proposal from the Senate would recharge it by improving enforcement and affordability.”

Rose said in the release that Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) deserves recognition for spearheading the legislation.

“The Senate President and Chairwoman Spilka deserve a lot of credit for putting out an excellent piece of legislation, and we hope they’ll fight to keep it strong,” Rose said in the release.

The new legislation comes as a response to criticism that the Massachusetts public records law is among the weakest in the country, the release stated. In November, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a weaker version of the bill that many believed was not good enough.

Margaret Burnham, a law professor at Northeastern University, said the passing of the new legislation is necessary to make sure Massachusetts’ public records law is up to the standards of the rest of the country.

“This is a critical step forward in bringing Massachusetts legislation into the norm for public records disclosure,” Burnham said. “Other states have similarly expanded access to public records and in today’s world, where so much information is readily available, government agencies have to also step up to the plate and be sensitive to the needs of the public.”

Burnham said in the face of potential overturned legislation, it is important that the needs of residents are still met.

“Researchers and members of the general public need to obtain information quickly, easily and without unnecessary expense, while at the same time protecting the legitimate privacy concerns of both individuals and government,” Burnham said.

Jessica Silbey, a law professor at Northeastern University, wrote in an email that the new legislation’s strong focus on the public deserves plenty of praise.

“Any policy that liberalizes the publics’ access to government decisions is good for the government, and it makes law and the rule of law more legitimate,” Silbey wrote. “A law like this that streamlines access to records and provides incentives for the government to comply with requests to records, I think will strengthen our democracy.”

Several residents agreed that passing the bill would prove beneficial for the general public.

Mark Hodges, 65, of Kenmore, said he believes passing the bill will be the right thing to do for the public.

“I would be in favor of no fees being charged against the public,” he said. “The public should have free access to records without corporations putting a fee on it.”

Garrett Lane, 26, of South Boston, said passing the bill would be a good opportunity to promote transparency.

“If it’s just a matter of having people have a lot more transparency, to get any information that’s needed from the government that it’s a great idea,” he said. “Especially now with classified information being publicized, especially from Hillary [Clinton], who you’re seeing in the news. I think in the spirit of transparency, [the bill] is a great idea.”

Liette Marcil, 37, of South End, said everyone should have access to documents.

“They are called ‘public’ records because they are supposed to be open to the public,” she said. “Everyone should have access to them and be able to view them.”

Student organization helps Muslim residents register to vote

January 29, 2016

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PHOTO BY ADRIANA DIAZ/DAILY FREE PRESS CONTRIBUTOR

The Islamic Society of Boston University held a voter registration phone bank Tuesday at the College of Arts and Sciences to increase Boston-area Muslim voters’ participation. Approximately 20 volunteers participated in calling potential voters and guiding them through the voter registration process.

Volunteers called potential voters for approximately one hour in hopes of getting as many registered as possible. The phone bank succeeded in registering nine initially unregistered Muslim voters out of approximately 200 Muslims called, MassMuslims organizer and 2015 BU graduate Sana Hashmani said.

The gathering was organized in partnership with the MassMuslims organization, ISBU President Taiba Zahir said.

“MassMuslims works with getting Muslims in the Boston area civically engaged and politically active,” Zahir, a junior in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said. “They reached out to us and they wanted to have a voter registration drive to encourage people to vote.”

Engaging in the community is a crucial mission within the Islamic society, Zahir said, while college students have the ability to make social change.

“College students have the potential of doing big things,” Zahir said. “As Muslims, being a specific demographic, it’s important to show that Muslims are active in their community. We are engaged, and we are just like everyone else who wants to make their own community better.”

MassMuslims also worked with JetPac Inc. to help execute the “voter registration drive.” Christopher Addis, an organizer from JetPac and a 2014 BU graduate, said their partnership is to further engage the Muslim community in the civic process.

“JetPac’s goal is to increase civic engagement in communities that are underrepresented in politics and to get people [who] are underrepresented in politics elected to local offices,” Addis said.

JetPac will continue to host the phone banks until Feb. 10 with the hope of getting through all 16,000 unregistered Muslim voters in Massachusetts, Addis said.

Hashmani said they obtained a list of unregistered but eligible Muslim voters from the Massachusetts Democratic Party to encourage potential voters to make a difference in upcoming elections.

“Two-thirds of people who are eligible to vote don’t vote,” she said. “If those two-thirds actually voted, the [government] would not be the way the government is today.”

Volunteers were given specific script to recite during phone calls to encourage potential voters and give them a better understanding about the registration process, Hashmani said.

“[The volunteers] will go through the list of unregistered voters and calling each household and saying, ‘Hi, I’m from the Muslim Voter Registration project and I’d love to get you registered and are you registered to vote?’” Hashmani said. “If they say no or if they thought it was really hard, we can say, ‘No it’s actually really easy and I can register you right now if you give me some information.’”

Hashmani said this gathering would not be the last effort to increase Muslim voters’ participation.

“This was our first voter registration phone banking event,” she said. “We plan on having more voter registration events such as tabling outdoor to get anyone who’s crossing the street [and] to make sure everyone’s registered to vote, not only focus on the Muslim community.”

Several student volunteers said it is important to engage Muslims in all aspects of society to take part in communal activities and being politically active.

Sabrina Hassan, a sophomore in CAS, said she wanted to participate in the drive to better inform people about the importance of voting.

“I never used to vote and once I got to college, I realized how important it was to try to convince people who used to think the same way that I did why it’s important,” she said. “It’s important because as Muslims, our voices tend to not be heard and we need to organize and make sure we’re as effective as we possibly can be.”

Faridat Ilupeju, a sophomore in the College of General Studies, said exercising voting rights has the potential to create a more fair judicial system for all citizens.

“If you don’t register to vote, you don’t get jury duty,” she said. “That’s where you find a lot of people that are falsely accused in situations where they can’t really be proven innocent because they have a jury that works against them.”

Annie Khanani, a sophomore in Sargent, said representing Muslims in all aspects of society is crucial to establishing a fair environment.

“Muslims in general are so prevalent, but they’re not [prevalent] in the political world,” she said, “If I can help in making sure that Muslims are aware of what’s going on and that they have a say in [politics], then why not?”

BU’s sale of Kenmore properties remains thoughtful to bookstore

January  25, 2016

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PHOTO BY PAIGE TWOMBLY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University has moved forward with its plans to sell many of its Kenmore Square properties after nearly four decades of ownership. Barnes and Noble’s lease will be extended through the change of ownership, BU spokesperson Colin Riley confirmed.

“There will always be a place for students to get their books,” he said.

The university has hired a broker to assist in the sale of the nine buildings located on the north side of Kenmore, Riley said. Once the buildings are sold, the new owners will decide on each building’s functionality, Riley said.

“The properties put on sale include the [Barnes and Noble] bookstore, the building on the other side of the alley, which includes Bertucci’s,” Riley said, “and the properties on the other side of Deerfield [Street].”

The nine buildings on sale are 648 Beacon St., 541 Commonwealth Ave. and 11-19 Deerfield St., Riley said. These buildings house several businesses, including Barnes and Noble, Bertucci’s, Cornwall’s Pub and the United States Postal Service.

Putting the properties on the market would further open up Kenmore as the gateway to campus, Riley said. Revenue generated from the sale will help BU accomplish its core values and goals for students through more research funding and teaching efforts that provide students with more opportunities.

Riley also said a firm is currently marketing the sale so there is no timeline as to when the buildings will be sold.

President of the Kenmore Association and owner of Cornwall’s Pub Pamela Beale said this would not be the first time BU’s property sale affects Kenmore’s landscape.

“Cornwall’s has been in the square for 40 years,” Beale said. “We used to be housed across the street, but when the university sold the Hotel Commonwealth, we were moved over to this side.”

BU has worked with Cornwall’s, and they “have known [BU] to be considerate of the community given that context and previous experience,” as the university made sure they were included in the process, Beale said.

Beale added that the university has a much greater opportunity now than they did when they first bought the Kenmore properties.

“We understand why the university is doing this,” she said. “Owning the properties may not have been part of [the university’s] long-term plan. They invested in the square and they stabilized the square.”

Though current selling process has made parties involved anxious, Beale said, they have had good experiences with the university in the past and aren’t too worried.

“[A change like this] has happened before and it turned out well for everyone,” Beale said. “You have to believe the same will be true the next time it happens.”

Several students shared their thoughts on the decision to put the properties on the market, some saying that they have concerns for the future of Barnes and Noble.

Alexis Morales, a sophomore in the College of General Studies, said she doesn’t understand the financial reason to the properties’ sale.

“I don’t really think BU needs more money,” she said. “More and more people keep donating their money to [BU] so I don’t understand why they’re selling their buildings while they continue to build more buildings too.”

Heather Ryan, a freshman in CGS, said she wonders whether the new owners would relocate the bookstore.

“Barnes and Noble is convenient where it is right now,” she said. “Moving it would probably be a problem for a lot of students, so that would definitely be one of the drawbacks. If selling it is going to bring more money to the school, that could be a good thing.”

Taylor Kocher, a freshman in the College of Communication, said the sale should not cause any problem as long as current tenants stay where they are following the purchase.

“[The sale] will all be fine as long as nothing happens to the properties,” she said. “Obviously as students we need the bookstore to stay where it is, so it will be fine if the properties stay where they are.”

MBTA hosts public meetings to discuss late-night service

January 20, 2016

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PHOTO BY ERIN BILLINGS/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Following an announcement that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority may discontinue late-night service, a public meeting was held Tuesday to discuss the decision with the public.

Approximately 30 members of the Boston community attended to share their thoughts with Charles Planck, assistant general manager of the MBTA. Planck began the meeting by introducing the reasons behind the talks of abandoning late-night service.

“The MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board has recommended that late-night service be discontinued due to low ridership and high costs,” Planck said.

According to an MBTA presentation, the overall operating cost for late-night service is $14 million per year. Private contributions to support the service were time-limited and insufficient to offset operating costs.

Planck also discussed the decline in late-night service ridership.

“Ridership on late-night service has been low relative to all MBTA ridership,” Planck said. “Ridership was about 16,000 per night and it has declined to about 13,000.”

Planck added that the service also cuts into the amount of work time that technicians have available to do track work.

“With our normal service day ending at 12:30 or 1:30 [a.m.] and service starting up at 5:30 [a.m.], there’s a very small overnight window when you consider that it can take an hour or even more to set up tools and equipment to do rail work and then an hour or more to prepare for regular services,” Planck said.

Several attendees lined up to testify and voice their disagreement with the decision to discontinue service.

Emerson freshman Christopher Black spoke about the reliability and convenience of the late-night service.

“Classes can run until about 9:45 [p.m.], which means if Emerson wants to have school-wide meetings like the one I’m going to tonight that starts at 10 p.m., it can easily run for a few hours,” Black said. “Being able to get home safely and in a timely manner is important for me.”

Dan Harris, of Allston, reminded the MBTA to keep disabled riders in mind as they make this decision.

“I just want you to think about the implications that taking away that service would have for people who can’t use an Uber,” Harris said. “Trying to find a cab that’s accessible is defeat in itself. So just be aware that, for a lot of us, the T is the only option.”

Boston University student Olivia Dorencz said the MBTA should view this not only as an economic issue, but as a moral one as well.

“You said there are 13,000 people that are using the service,” Dorencz said. “That might sound like a small number, but that’s still 13,000 living, breathing people that are going to worry about how they’re getting home.”

Gabriel Distler, of Somerville, discussed the impact the shutdown would have on residents as well as local businesses.

“Has the MBTA studied if late-night has a positive impact on businesses such as bars, restaurants and theaters?” Distler asked. “Do you know what the negative impact will be on these businesses if it’s abruptly ended? If we close late-night service, we risk closing local services and we risk losing jobs.”

Distler also suggested several alternatives to cutting service, such as studying which late-night lines are most successful and cutting some of the underused bus lines.

In response to public concern for nightshift workers, Planck said that a lot of nightshift workers work from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and are already served by regular MBTA service hours.

According to Planck, the MBTA will conduct an equity analysis to examine the impact of the proposed change and help to see if there is a disproportional impact to minority and low-income riders. The MBTA will review these results before continuing the process.

After the meeting, several attendees shared their opinions on the decision.

Tori Loubert, a senior at Emerson College, said the service is most beneficial to college students.

“I don’t think [discontinuing the service] is a good idea considering that one-third of Boston’s population is college students,” Loubert said. “I think to better serve that community it should have a late night service.”

Marion Kinosian, a junior at Emerson College, also spoke about the safety of college students.

“We are a huge college town,” Kinosian said. “People are out on weekends at parties and you don’t want a bunch of drunk college students stuck anywhere. It just comes down to public safely.”

Reggie Clark, 62, of Brookline, pointed out the importance of looking at the situation from the MBTA’s perspective.

“These bus drivers and conductors have to do maintenance at night and take care of the buses so we can have them for the next morning,” Clark said. “I’m always considerate of a different point of view than everybody else. If [the service] is not working why have it?”

MBTA introduces pilot program for passengers with disabilities

November 18, 2015

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PHOTO BY FALON MORAN/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is revitalizing its van service for passengers with disabilities by introducing a new pilot program to target passengers’ needs. The Ride, the MBTA’s van service, provides transportation for those who are unable to use fixed-route transit because of a physical, cognitive or mental disability.

“The program will be six months long and currently involves 124 people, with 124 debit cards activated for use,” MBTA spokesman Jason Johnson wrote in an email.

Participants will be able to pay for their rides with subsidized debit cards provided by the MBTA. Johnson said that a total of $672,662 has been allocated for the program, with $389,707 coming from the New Freedom Program and $282,955 coming from the MBTA. The MBTA has also considered partnering with transportation services to further implement the program.

In 2015, The Ride provided 2.1 million trips with an average of 7,000 per weekday, according to a Nov. 9 MBTA presentation. The introduction of this new program could potentially save the MBTA $16 million.

Rick Morin, treasurer of the Bay State Council of the Blind, said that the program’s passengers would be able to get the equivalent of a $15 ride for $2.

“I put $2 in and the MBTA matches it with $13,” Morin said. “I can take a taxi for $15 and if it goes over that amount, then I will have to pay extra.”

Morin said that the pilot program is more economically sustainable for the MBTA than The Ride, and that he no longer has to book his rides 24 hours in advance or get locked into the schedule that The Ride assigns to its passengers.

“I get home when I want to get home, not when the ride schedules it,” Morin said. “The MBTA has had preliminary partnership conversations with other possible providers such as Uber and Lyft.”

Morin said he thinks a partnership with Uber would be beneficial to the program.

“I think it would be a great idea to expand to Uber,” Morin said. “But we have to realize that this is just a pilot program so there’s no commitment that it will continue, but all the economics look like it will.”

Mary Caroline Pruitt, a Lyft spokesperson, said in an email that the company has been implementing programs aimed at helping other transit organizations.

“We’ve had conversations across the country with transit agencies like MBTA about how we can help supplement their transit programs,” Pruitt wrote.

Uber spokesperson Carlie Waibel confirmed the company’s officials have discussed a partnership with The Ride. In an email, Waibel wrote that the company is eager to work with The Ride to implement new strategies.

“Uber stands ready to work with the MBTA to help solve some of the challenges facing important services like The Ride as they look at ways to increase mobility options across the Commonwealth and looks forward to continuing discussions on what a partnership utilizing our innovative technology could look like,” Waibel wrote in an email.

Several residents had a positive reaction to the new program.

John Spencer, 77, of Back Bay said he thinks the MBTA should try this program to offer support to those in need.

“It’s a terrific idea. I’ve used Uber and I’ve been very satisfied,” he said. “I have not used [The Ride] but I think it’s a great idea, certainly for people who are below the poverty line or need assistance.”

Jacob Sirof, 25, of Allston said he thinks it’s always a good idea to have more access for people with disabilities.

“It’s a great idea,” he said. “It’s good for a six-month trial, if it’s working out well then I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t continue.”

Milan Baudelaire, 33, of Brookline said that she thinks the MBTA is helping a good cause.

“I do take the T and I think every couple of years they raise the fares anyways,” she said. “So if they’re raising it this time to help disabled people get around I guess I can’t complain about that.”

Students rally against SG E-board impeachment

November 10, 2015

By: Kyler Sumter, Sophia Eppolito, & Sydney Foy

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PHOTO BY EMILY ZABOWSKI/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

More than 30 students congregated at Marsh Plaza and the George Sherman Union Tuesday afternoon to protest the impeachment of two Executive Board members of the Boston University Student Government, a decision that was reached by the Senate Monday night.

Students in support of the movement, called “BU Students Against Silence,” then sat at the entrance to the GSU with duct tape on their mouths and held posters with phrases such as “Freedom of speech is listening” and “End political censorship.”

The Boston University SG Vice President of Finance Kimberly Barzola and the VP of Internal Affairs Marwa Sayed were impeached at Monday’s Senate meeting on charges that they failed to meet their “constitutionally mandated tasks,” according to a letter sent out by the SG Judicial Commission Friday, Oct. 30.

BU Students Against Silence protested the decision because they believe the impeachments took place due to the views of the former SG members, several protesters explained. Members of the group walked through the GSU and Marsh Plaza chanting, “What do you do when you’re under attack? Stand up. Fight Back. Hey hey. Ho ho. Student Government’s got to go.”

Several students shared their views on Twitter through the hashtag #BUStudentsAgainstSilence. Additionally, a Twitter poll posted by The Daily Free Press Monday night showed that out of 306 voters at press time, 25 percent percent agree with the decision to impeach Sayed and Barzola, while 75 percent disagree.

Several students who participated in the rally spoke out the against the impeachment.

Marlo Kalb, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a rally participant, said the group was made up of students who were outraged by the impeachment decisions.

“So yes, they were impeached based on neglecting their duties but would we have seen this even happen or this trial even happen if they didn’t have those false discriminatory claims? No,” she said. “ … We are calling for a restructuring and a dismantling of Student Government.”

Kalb said the group plans to take more direct action in the future.

“We are going to keep up the momentum,” she said. “We are going to keep doing this.”

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Melanie Kirsh, a senior in the CAS, said she joined the rally because of the bias and lack of transparency she said she saw in the BU Student Government.

“There was a huge cover-up of political disagreements that have occurred … you can’t find them now,” she said. “ … You can’t find it so the evidence no longer exists, so the only evidence they had was this person wasn’t doing their job and they are just interpreting the constitution, and it’s like, who made the constitution? [The original complaint letter was asserting] that there were anti-Semitic comments when, from my perspective, it was just sharing support of peace in Palestine, but then people equate that to anti-Semitism.”

Sofya Bazhanova, a sophomore in CAS and onlooker to the rally, said she hadn’t heard much about the issue before seeing the protest.

“I didn’t really understand what it is,” she said, “but I’m definitely certain that I want to look into it more and understand what’s going on.”

As student loans rise nationwide, Dept. of Ed. announces new regulations

October 30, 2015

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PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY PAIGE TWOMBLY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The U.S. Department of Education announced two new sets of regulations Tuesday aimed at helping borrowers pay off their student loans.

The regulations will give students more freedom in choosing how they receive federal aid and let them cap their monthly student loan payment at 10 percent of their annual income, said Under Secretary of the Department of Education Ted Mitchell in a conference call with press Tuesday.

“The first set of regulations will help protect students from unreasonable account fees, safeguard taxpayer dollars and provide transparency regarding accounts offered to students by requiring … information about the costs students incur,” he said. “This will ensure that students have a choice about how to receive their federal aid and will prohibit their personal information from being shared without their consent.”

Under the second set of regulations, which is called the Revised Pay As You Earn plan, five million additional direct loan borrowers will be able to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their monthly income in December.

“The REPAYE plan will improve upon the current Pay As You Earn Plan, while extending its protection to all student borrowers with direct loans,” Mitchell said.

The regulations will require institutions to provide students with a list of account options they can borrow from, each presented in a neutral manner and making clear that students can have their student aid deposited to their preexisting bank account, a press release explained.

These regulations come as the average amount of student debt continues to increase. In 2014 the average student loan debt was $28,950, a 2 percent increase from the average in 2013, according to an annual report by The Institute for College Access and Success released Tuesday. The study found that 69 percent of 2014 graduating seniors took out student loans last year.

Boston University spokesman Colin Riley said the average amount of debt for BU loan borrowers is around $36,000 while the median is around $28,000.

“I think we do a very good job of keeping an eye on [the affordability issue] and addressing it,” he said.

Riley said BU does not have loan repayment issues. The default rate is currently below 2 percent, meaning that less than 2 percent of BU student borrowers fail to repay their loans, he said.

“For anyone who loans money — banks, finance institutions, financial firms — they would love to have a default rate that low,” he said. “[Our default rate] says that we have people who are responsible and they have incomes that allow them to do it. That reflects on the value of their degree that they’re getting jobs that help them meet their obligations.”

Riley said he believes the regulations will have a positive impact on all student borrowers.

“When you’re helping people meet their obligations in repaying, then fewer people will end up in default and that reflects well on the student borrower and the university,” he said.

Kian McGee, a sophomore in the School of Hospitality Administration, said these regulations are very important to students of this generation.

“In our generation paying loans off is the hardest thing,” he said. “I think in a 10-year span student loans will increase on average by $10,000 or $15,000. Anything you can do to help towards that cause is definitely constructive.”

Gemma Topaz, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said the regulations are a good start, but loans are still stressful for borrowers.

“I think [the regulations] will ease stress but I think it’s not entirely sufficient,” she said. “Your loans will still linger and be there. [The regulations] may help a little bit but it won’t help mask them or make them disappear.”

Katherine Lawlor, a senior in the Questrom School of Business, said the regulations make her feel better about her loans, since they would reduce the excessive fees students must pay to access their loans and financial aid.

“As a senior, student loans are a big thing that I will have to deal with when I graduate. I don’t have a lot of loans to pay back but it’s still enough that it’s going to suck.” she said. “Loans will affect some people more than others depending on how much you have to pay back but overall [the regulations] do ease my stress on the situation a little bit.”