- Associated Press - Monday, March 20, 2017

BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Charlie Baker is backing away from a proposal to eliminate all weekend commuter rail service.

The Republican said Monday that his administration is no longer supporting the plan following a week of heavy criticism.

“Our administration is exploring alternatives to last week’s MBTA budget proposals to make weekend commuter rail service more efficient, and will not pursue proposals to eliminate weekend service altogether,” Baker said in a written statement.

Baker said he’s worked with lawmakers, labor unions and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Fiscal and Management Control Board to help stabilize spending and use the funds to improve the system’s reliability.

“I hope the FMCB continues to pursue much needed reforms, such as working with private sector experts to provide more affordable bus maintenance services, so we can invest those savings into further improving service,” Baker said.

The proposal to cut the weekend service for a year, which had been heavily criticized, was among a number of options on the table as the public transit agency looks to close a $42 million budget gap.

On Thursday, members of Massachusetts’ all-Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve and Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack protesting the plan.

The delegation also criticized a second proposal that would end thousands of door-to-door rides for disabled passengers for a year who rely on the paratransit service known as The Ride.

The service is mandated by the federal government, but the MBTA currently goes beyond that requirement. The proposal would eliminate rides that aren’t federally mandated by limiting service to areas that are more than three-quarters of a mile away from an MBTA bus or subway stop.

MBTA officials said Monday they will maintain the scope of The Ride required by federal law, but may try to expand service beyond that by working with ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, or partnering with regional transit authorities.

The congressional delegation, led by U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton and Mike Capuano, said the proposed cuts would leave some of the state’s most vulnerable residents without access to transportation and may drive people away from the commuter rail system in the future.

Cuts to weekend commuter rail service would save about $10 million, while cutting back on trips on The Ride would save $7.4 million. The agency already hopes to save $27.6 million by privatizing much of its bus maintenance and customer service departments.

A final agency budget doesn’t need to be finalized until April 15.

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