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Proposed T Service Cuts, Fare Hikes: ‘Not An Easy Choice’

Riders wait on the platform of the MBTA station in Malden in March 2009. (AP)

Riders wait on the platform of the MBTA station in Malden in March 2009. (AP)

BOSTON — The chairman of the board for the state Transportation Department is promising to look for way to mitigate the impact of proposed fare hikes and service cuts for the MBTA. But without additional state funding, transportation officials say it appears some combination of service reductions and fare hikes is the only way to balance the T’s budget.

The T’s Fiscal Woes

The MBTA is in debt, big time: $5.5 billion, plus some $3 billion in interest payments.

To close a projected $161 million budget gap for the next fiscal year, transportation officials are targeting public transit services with the fewest riders or where commuters have alternatives.

But Acting T GM Jonathan Davis admits some riders will likely be left with no service at all.

“It’s not an easy choice for us,” Davis said. “We understand the impact this could have on people who rely on our system to get to where they’re going. But in some instances, there just would not be any public transportation options for some people.”

Pamela Bush says that’s unacceptable. She’s a T rider and community organizer in Dorchester’s Four Corners neighborhood. Bush says fare hikes would force families to make hard choices.

“You’ll be making a choice between food for your child, laundry detergent, things like that, or getting on the T,” Bush said.

How much service is cut depends on another decision: how much fares are increased. State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey sees no alternative to some sort of hike.

“We haven’t had a fare increase in over five years,” Davey said. “Fare increases from time to time are a prudent policy. So I think the question and the debate is how big of a fare increase we’re going to have. But certainly I think a fare increase is something that should be on the table.”

A ‘Band-Aid?’

“What they are proposing is a band-aid,” said Rafael Mares, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation. “This is just aimed at attempting to close part of the operating budget gap. It doesn’t close it completely for next year, it doesn’t say anything about future years, and it doesn’t do anything about the long list of maintenance needs that the T has.”

Mares is working with a coalition of community groups who want policymakers to consider options beyond service cuts and fare hikes.

“We have a transportation that is underfunded in general,” Mares said. “It’s not just the T, it’s public transportation in general. And it’s not just public transportation, it’s roads, bridges. They should be trying to come up with a solution for the whole transportation system in the state.”

While service cuts and fare hikes are what they’re examining right now, public transportation officials say other ideas are welcome, and will be reviewed during 20 public meetings before the T’s budget is finalized in April.

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