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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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  • deep

    I’m still wondering how the T found the money to install those heating lamps in their bus stops around the city?  Aren’t those thing expensive to run all the time?  How much money could they have saved if they didn’t buy those things?

  • Danag 1

    Why isn’t anyone.looking into the gross wasteful spending within the MBTA? I worked.as a.contractor for them and it was a running joke how much people were being paid to just sit and do nothing at stations all day.

  • Anonymous

    Stop expanding when you can’t cover current operations.  Closing the E line while expanding to Sommerville?  Expanding trains to Fall River and New Bedford while eliminating weekend commuter rail? 

  • Anonymous

    How much does the T waste on branding?  Do we need Charlie mascots on construction signs?  Does the commuter rail schedule need to be four color printing on glossy paper?  How much was wasted on the silly Kenmore bus station roof? 

  • Anonymous

    Fares should be raised at the same rate as the gas tax. 

  • Jasoturner

    I observe the following:

    A large and dense city like Boston simply does not work without mass transit.  Anyone who thinks all those people currently using mass transit would not create a disaster if they were forced to try to drive into, and find parking in, Boston are just crazy.

    Public transportation is a public good, not only for the reason stated above, but because it reduces operating and maintenance costs on our roadways, and it affords those with low income a way to live outside the city, where housing is cheaper, but commute into the urban center where jobs are more plentiful and, perhaps, better paying.  Without having to own a car.  Which let’s face it, ain’t cheap.

    Because of it’s important role in the city, public transportation should be adequately funded by the taxpayers.  I am not talking about funding wasteful projects or useless station additions, but I am talking about funding the actual operating expenses that accrue through competitive bidding (construction and certain operating contracts) or are obligated due to contractual obligations to the union.

    The union needs to rethink the philosophy of layoffs being preferable to concessions on their contracts, if their benefits are unbalanced compared with the private sector.  Their strategy can have a lot to do with whether Boston is a great city, or a good city.  Sometimes the commonweal has to come first.  I do not know if labor can be this forward thinking.

    The riders of the T are, in a sense, providing a public service because they are not using, and wearing out, our roadways, bridges, parking lots and what have you.  They should not be asked to bear the cost or running a transit system on their own.  All taxpayers should contribute, or at least, all those living in communities served by the T.

    Also, regarding the rate increase, even if my T pass increases from, say, $230 to $300 a month, it is still cheaper than driving into Boston and parking every day.  It is also quicker many times because of the awful traffic on the Pike/128 interchange.  And, of course, I’d wear out my car about three times faster if I drove in here every day.  Literally.

    I guess in conclusion, I am suggesting that trying to starve the T beast by putting it in an impossible budget squeeze is a really dumb idea.  Good public transit used to be the hallmark of a great and thriving city.  Shall we strangle this, and watch helplessly as other centers of our vitality also shrink and wither away?  Shall we be so ideologically opposed to paying for any common conveniences that we help kill a source of our vitality?  I for one think this draconian thinking about the T is retrograde, short sighted and destructive.  Shall I say it?  Mass, if you want to increase my taxes by $100 (or whatever within reason) a year to keep the T robust and reliable, I am okay with it.

  • http://twitter.com/AwesomeRobot AwesomeRobot

    Right, Good move MBTA – instead of turning internally and asking why you’re so much more inefficient than any other transit system you cut service and charge more. How about looking at the few hundred employees making more than 75k a year (before overtime pay). The entire Boston transit system is a corrupt racket. 

  • Akfaka

    Why havn’t anyone address the real issue? Too many useless T employees  sitting around milking money out of the T. in any other corporate world, these imbeciles would have been lay off long time ago. 

  • Akfaka

    At North Quincy Station, there is a so called customer service guy sitting around the booth, doing nothing.  but when I need some assistance, he is nowhere to be found. If I am lucky enough to find him,  I got a big attitude as if I am bothering him. Why is MBTA paying for people like that and raise price, cut services on us? Again, people like that would be fired long time ago if he work in a corporate environment.

  • Richard Mass.Ave.

    I have written many times over 5 years about 2 and sometimes 3 busses running together on the Dudley-Harvard line. Specifically after  11pm  Friday and Saturday nights. It improved for a while and now it is happening again.

    • Anonymous

      The 39 and 57 do that often too. 

      • jimjim_acc

        At the end of the night, they have to strategically move empty buses around terminals and depots to “reset” for the next morning. Instead of moving the empty buses around with “OUT OF SERVICE” status, they let them carry passengers too. That’s why there are so many buses on major routes around midnight.

  • Joan

    Why not take some money out of the The Rainy Day Fund….instead of making peoples
    lives even harder –especially in terms of local services…Where is the common sense 
    there? 

    And why not make the Massachusetts Health Care  system a single payer system if it 
    is taking so much out of the budget year after year. Why not do something constructive 
    and permanent about it –as Vermont did and put the state in a better state of affairs? Someone could be making better fiscal choices for the state….where is the governor and major on this issue? Weren’t they talking about leaving the state a legacy –wellhere is their chance…improve the T system and bring health care cost into line…….

  • http://www.prospecthillforge.com/ Carl the Blacksmith

    With the Charlie Cards, it is possible to know how much a card gets used in a month.

    Having a discount for someone who commutes daily and can afford to pre-pay for that month is great. For someone who can’t scrape the monthly fare together in a lump, track their usage on the card, and give a progressive discount.

  • Shawn Dallas

    So they have enough money to purchase 2,456 (or is it 2,444, or
    2457–they keep changing the order amount) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
    aircraft at a total life cycle, operating and purchasing cost of close
    to $562,000,000 per unit, totaling nearly $1.4 TRILLION, but they don’t
    have the chicken feed to cover this?!!!

    1. Lockheed Martin F-35 Operating Costs May Reach $1 Trillion

    “It may cost as much as $1 trillion to operate the military’s fleet
    of Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) F-35 aircraft for several decades,
    according to a preliminary Pentagon estimate sent to Congress”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-04-21/lockheed-martin-f-35-operating-costs-may-reach-1-trillion.html

    2. Restructuring Places Program on Firmer Footing, but Progress Is Still Lagging
    GAO-11-677T, May 19, 2011

    “The estimated total investment cost is currently about $385 billion
    to develop and procure 2,457 aircraft.” That’s not counting the
    $TRILLION it will cost to maintain them!

    http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-677T

    3. Joint Strike Fighter Accelerating Procurement before Completing
    Development Increases the Government’s Financial Risk GAO-09-303, Mar
    12, 2009

    “The total investment required now exceeds $1 trillion—more than $300 billion
    to acquire 2,456 aircraft and $760 billion in life cycle operating and
    support costs, according to program estimates. ” That was then, which
    is awful, but, as the previous links show, the costs have risen.

    http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-303
     

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