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Mass. Transportation Secretary Details Proposed MBTA Rate Hikes

BOSTON — The words “fare hike” make just about anyone who frequently uses public transportation shudder. The MBTA hasn’t raised fares since 2007, but is now proposing an increase of up to 43 percent to help deal with a projected $161 million budget gap and an aging fleet of trains.

Even so, the T acknowledges that, ultimately, fare hikes and service cuts alone won’t be enough to solve its budget problems, and it estimates that the system will lose between 9 and 17 percent of its riders as a result of increased fares and reduced service.

The state Department of Transportation released the first details of the proposed hike Tuesday, and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey spoke about those proposals with WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer.

Sacha Pfeiffer: The T has said that it will be holding more than 20 public meetings over the next several months about these proposed hikes, but given the budget reality at the T, is there really anything the public could say that would persuade the T not to raise fares?

Richard Davey: Well, certainly there are many things the public could say that could calibrate how high we’re raising fares or what services we’re cutting. I mean, we’ve definitely said, having spent some time running the T myself, we don’t have all the answers, and some of best ideas I got when I was general manager was from our customers. But, to your point, I think it would be almost inconceivable for there not be some kind of fare increase this year.

What has been proposed, as of July 1, is that, for CharlieCard holders, bus rides that are now $1.25 could go up to $1.75, and subway rides that are now $1.70 could go up to $2.40. Besides just costing more come July, how else might riding the T be different than it is now? For example, will there be longer waits for trains or buses?

Well, we’re trying to hold the line on service, particularly on subways, so we do not have any proposed cuts for subway service during rush hour, for example, or commuter rail. But we are looking at some underutilized service. We have some suburban bus carriers that are not well utilized. Under both scenarios, we are proposing to eliminate the ferry service that we run.

Totally eliminate it?

Totally eliminate it. It’s very underutilized right now and the cost per passenger is quite high and there are redundant services in place, in most instances. So, for example, if you take the ferry from Hingham, you could still use the Greenbush line, the commuter rail line. There are obviously opportunities to take to get to the airport on the Silver or Blue lines, for example, as opposed to the ferry.

What about commuter rail impact?

For commuter rail, we’re looking at complete elimination of weekend service and cutting back service at 10 p.m. Right now we run service in some instances till almost midnight.

That seems like it would have quite a bit of impact on people who live in outlying areas and rely on those to get into the city.

I completely understand. If you’re one of those customers who relies on the T or relies on commuter rail after 10 p.m. to get to Worcester or Fitchburg, this proposal is aimed at cutting that, and that’s going to be a significant burden.

The T has had quite an increase in ridership lately, attributed in part by the T to a slowly improving economy. Do you have any concern that if you do cut service, you could end up harming a fragile economic recovery?

I’m not sure we would harm an economic recovery because it’s not as if the T is driving that. I mean, the T, I think, is a beneficiary of an improving economy. I think, unfortunately some folks, some customers, will have different options that they’ll have to exercise, like driving or — to the extent that can — potentially altering work schedules.

When you talk about people having to drive, you’re basically talking about putting more people on the road. In so many ways, public transportation is what makes a city like Boston more livable. Do you worry that we make the city less livable when we cut back on service?

Sure, I do. I mean, it’s just the bottom line — there are going to be more cars on road and thus greenhouse gas emissions will increase. Certainly, in many ways, both scenarios pose some unwitting challenges for us and that’s one.

A lot of the T’s budget goes to paying off debt, and that amount rises with interest. Is it possible that because of that we will be back at the table talking about the same thing in just a year or two — the need for fares hikes and cuts in service?

I can almost guarantee it. I mean, the MBTA’s debt service this year alone is $452 million. That will be spent on interest or principal. That’s paying for things we already bought or built. To give you a sense of how much revenue we bring in, this year we’re expected to bring in $450 million to the fare box. So, basically, every dollar of what we take in from our customers goes to pay off the credit card.

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  • Zandeerae

    Oh Right!  And aren’t we supposed to be encouraging mass transit and commuting by anything but a car?  Not all of us can take advantage of the wonderful bike program!

  • http://twitter.com/AwesomeRobot AwesomeRobot

    Wow seriously? The MBTA doesn’t think that cheap, affordable, and punctual public transportation can help the economy? Additionally, Work schedules aren’t something that can typically be “altered” for the average low or middle-class employee; it’s clear how out of touch the MBTA’s management is that they would even suggest that.

    I’m constantly hearing about fare increases and service cuts – but what I’m not hearing is how the MBTA is looking to make itself more efficient. They have hundreds of employees making over 75k a year (not to mention benefits packages) - a lot of these aren’t even management positions, we’re talking pipe fitters, wirepersons…  the MBTA seems to pay employees more than any other transportation system on the planet. It’s a complete racket. 

    • inwaterwrit

      “Additionally, Work schedules aren’t something that can typically be
      “altered” for the average low or middle-class employee; it’s clear how
      out of touch the MBTA’s management is that they would even suggest that.” <- This, so much this.

      Equally out of touch is the idea that everyone should drive. Traffic in and around Boston is crazy enough, so let's just make it worse! Also, let's just entirely write off people who don't or can't own a car, and who don't want to or are unable to acquire one. Or who can't drive, period.

      Anyone with a low income who was relying on commuter rail weekend service for work is being entirely marginalized here, and their livelihoods could be in danger for it.  Completely infuriating.

      • Noam DePlume

        There’s also the fact that once you have a car, at least for my commute, it is both cheaper and faster to drive than it is to use public transit.

        My car uses about $6 in gas for a round trip to and from work, commuter rail costs more than that each way. My car gets me to where I work, commuter rail gets me to the far side of the same city.

        The problem is, in order for this math to change, the cost of driving has to exceed the cost to me of the time and money spent on public transit. The simple way to get this to happen is to increase the tax on gas a few hundred percent, and use the money to subsidize the public transit infrastructure.

        Try that, though, and car addicts will riot in the streets.

        Also: “Right now we run service in some instances till almost midnight.”? Oh, and that passes for useful? Real cities have something (Toronto’s “Vomit Comet” bus service, NYC’s everything, etc.) that runs 24 hours a day. 

  • John

    Isn’t part of this problem a result of the state dumping a bunch of big dig debt on the T???  Does anyone see a contradiction here??  So the people who don’t use the roads are now paying twice for them???

  • Onecv

    The government want more people on th roads in order to help the auto industry and their lobyists. Look at how the Republicans let the public transportation monthly pre tax subsidy retreat to $125, while keeping it at $230 for parking.

  • Commuter

    I wonder what actions they’ve taken to reduce the deficit prior to proposing the fare increase. I also wonder what bonuses/ pay increases for the senior staff look (ed)like for 2011 and 2012.

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