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T Customers Have Spoken: Raise Fares Before Cutting Service

In January, the MBTA proposed two plans that could help to close a projected $161 million budget gap for the 2013 fiscal year. The final plan is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. (Source: MBTA)

BOSTON — Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey says any money that the MBTA can save next year will go toward preventing cuts in services, rather than preventing fare increases.

The T has held 31 hearings and meetings over the past two months to get public comment on its proposals to fill a projected $161 million budget gap for the 2013 fiscal year. Davey says customers have made one thing clear:

“What we’ve heard from customers, some customers, not all, is that they’d rather pay a little more than see their service cut”, Davey said.

The T has put two proposals on the table to close its projected deficit. One would raise equal amounts of money from fare increases and drastic service cuts. The other proposal would reduce fewer services, but raise fares more.

Janice Loux, a member of the MBTA board and president of a hotel and food service union, said at Wednesday’s board meeting that she would vote against some cuts in bus service.

“I cannot in good conscience support inner-city bus route cuts that will cut the legs out from under the workers who make this city run,” Loux said.

The T must present its proposed service cuts and fare increases to the board in two weeks. But it now looks like the T will be able to count on two new sources of revenue. Davey expects an additional $5 million from the lease of the North Station garage, and another $7 million from the snow and ice removal budget.

“That’s $12 million which we hope to use to close the gap,” Davey said. “It’s not a lot, but at least it’s something.”

Massport may come to the rescue as well. Davey believes Massport could subsidize the Silver Line and possibly the ferries. Ferries are supposed to be eliminated under both T proposals, but if they can serve the airport or the port, Massport might be able to pay for them.

Wednesday’s board meeting was a colorful one. It included a “mic check” from Occupy the MBTA. Davey and the board seemed bemused by the disruption, but many people brought a more somber note. People with disabilities spoke out against a proposal to increase fares for the The Ride, the taxi and van service for the handicapped.

Somerville Disability Commissioner Ellen Frith predicted that the fare increases would have a devastating impact on people with disabilities.

“They will be shut into their homes, and they are very discouraged right now,” Frith said.

The T is the only major public transportation system in the country that provides rides for disabled people beyond what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires.

The act mandates that people within three-fourths of a mile of public transit routes must be offered taxi or van service. The T offers rides to people beyond that range. It’s proposing to keep providing that service, but to raise fares from $2 to as much as $12.

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