The Associated Press

MBTA: Higher Fares, Service Cuts Likely Without More Funding

BOSTON — Public transit riders in the Boston area could face fare increases of up to 33 percent or dramatic reductions in service unless the state provides additional funding for the financially strapped system, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials said Tuesday.

In this 2011 file photo, a commuter train leaves the MBTA station in Andover. (AP)

In this 2011 file photo, a commuter train leaves the MBTA station in Andover. (AP)

Facing a projected $140 million deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1, the MBTA is hoping Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature will agree on a long-term fix for the agency’s chronic budget shortfalls. But with the T required to present a balanced budget to its board of directors by April 15, officials outlined several options for closing the gap.

“We certainly hope for the best, but we need to plan for the worst,” Jonathan Davis, the MBTA’s chief financial officer, told the Department of Transportation’s finance and audit committee.

Under one scenario that would rely solely on fare increases, average fares would rise 33 percent, on top of last year’s 23 percent increase that helped close a $160 million deficit. The “all fare” approach would see bus fares go from $1.50 to $2, and subway fares from $2 to $2.60. Commuter rail increases would vary by region.

Another scenario would use a combination of fare increases and service cuts to close the deficit. Under this approach, fares may rise an average of 15 percent accompanied by steps that could include eliminating all weekend service, ending weekday service at 11 p.m., and cutting the 30 least-productive weekday bus routes.

Beverly Scott, the MBTA’s general manager, answered “absolutely not” when asked by reporters if the suggestions of fare increases and service cuts were a veiled threat intended to pressure lawmakers into acting on a budget fix.

“This is not about some kind of throw-down or putting someone on notice,” Scott said. “It is what it is. There are consequences of inaction, and we are just doing what we need to do on our end.”

Scott and other MBTA officials said they believed they could reduce the projected deficit to $115-$120 million through a series of cost savings and other measures, but that it would be impossible to totally wipe out the gap by cutting overhead alone.

“We are not fat with managers,” she said.

Patrick’s state budget proposal includes a call to permanently eliminate the MBTA’s operating deficits while also providing for “modest” service enhancements.

Patrick has proposed tax changes — including an increase in the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent — that would generate $1.9 billion in new revenue for transportation and education initiatives.

The governor’s tax proposals have so far been met with a cool reception from legislative leaders. House Speaker Robert DeLeo is among those who have expressed reservations about raising the income tax at a time when many Massachusetts residents are still feeling the pinch of the economic downturn.

DeLeo and other lawmakers have said they are weighing alternative revenue measures.

“It takes two to tango,” said John Jenkins, a member of the MassDOT board of directors, adding the T has no choice but to proceed under the assumption it will receive little or no help from Beacon Hill.

“If the Legislature says no, or ‘We are only going to give you this much or that much,’ we have to have a plan to put in place quickly,” Jenkins said.

MBTA officials emphasized that no final decisions had been made on fare increases or service cuts and that public hearings would be held before any changes are implemented.

Advocates for transit riders said at Tuesday’s meeting they understood the MBTA’s dilemma but urged officials to consider the impact of future decisions on low-income, elderly and disabled passengers.

“We want to make sure that we do not unfairly target those who can least afford another fare increase,” said Diana Bell, a representative of Public Good-Public Transit, a statewide group that promotes public transportation.

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  • Matt

    Didn’t we JUST do this?? How about we get someone to run the T who has a clue, and can look past a 6-month period? Talk about deju vu.

  • Thomas Dylan

    Rider fares and possibly the cities BOSTON serviced by the T should pay for 90% of the cost of running the T. The T is like a spoked wheel without the wheel, all routes lead to Boston. You can go from Worcester to Boston, Lowell to Boston,Fitchburg to Boston, Haverhill to Boston, Newburyport to Boston but try going from Newburyport to Lowell. You can do it if you have a few hours. The T services only a few towns let them pay. There’s no way some poor slob stuck in traffic on 495 should have to pay a dime in taxes for the T. Make the T PAY FOR ITSELF!

    • Michael Richards

      If the T gets any more expensive or services are cut, that poor slob on 495 is going to be facing twice the traffic. People gotta get where they gotta go If they don’t get there by T, they’re going to go by car at least until we all get jetpacks.

    • jefe68

      How about all the money that was put onto the T for the Big Dig can now be put onto the people who drive. People like you, and then we can talk about who should pay for the T.

    • J__o__h__n

      Then Boston should charge all nonresidents who have jobs in the city.

      • jefe68

        They do this in London and the toll to get into NY City is up to $12.50.

  • Thinkfreeer

    We have to pay “fees” (a.k.a. taxes) to get a license, a registration, to go to court, to own a gun, etc. etc. All government functions that we supposedly need. We pay general taxes to fund the government, then they want to charge a fee for their “services.”

    And we’re supposed to provide public tax dollars to the MBTA? What’s wrong with asking the users of the MBTA to pay for it themselves?

    • Michael Richards

      Public transportation serves everyone and government needs to motivate more people to take it. The roads are clogged here. What are we going to do when traffic on the road in Boston doubles because MBTA service becomes so degraded?

  • Michael Richards

    How is it the state can afford the new station at Assembly Square on the Orange line as well as going forward with the new Green Line route to West Medford if they’re so strapped for cash? Those two projects alone probably clock in at around a billion dollars. It makes absolutely no sense how the MBTA spends their money during times of fiscal crisis. The new station additions at Park Street, Kenmore, and on and on. Where does all of that money come from? I just can’t understand how a state collecting so much money from tolls can’t pay for its basic transportation needs like buses and the T. How are they going to cope with the traffic and parking needs of everyone who drives because they’re bus service was cancelled?

  • J__o__h__n

    The gas tax needs to be raised at the same percentage as the MBTA fares have increased since the last time the gas tax was raised.

  • J__o__h__n

    Close half the green line stations. If you can see the next station, it is too close. This will speed up service and cut costs.
    Ban eating on the T. Save cleaning costs. Do we need people sweeping the steps at rush hour?
    Why are there at least four people on the red line tracks at Park St?
    Any incentives for T workers to lose weight and stop smoking? It looks like a large number of them smoke.
    No new building that doesn’t also have dedicated state funding to cover the additional operating expenses.
    Do we really need a train from Pittsfield to NY? How many people are really going to commute from New Bedford and Fall River to Boston?
    Charge more for single rides. When I go to NY and they raise the price I don’t mind as I don’t pay it every day. Monthly passes should not raise at the same percentage.
    No more free rides ever. 4th of July, Earth Day, New Year’s Eve, etc. The green line service is worse now that only the front door is in use during off peak hours to supposedly reduce fare evasion (although the buses aren’t). If free rides are a problem then really stop them.

  • Cyrus e

    I dont live in mass but If mbta’s issues come from expanding stations and other “expansion projects” why is this called a deficit? sounds like spending out side of your means. If this is not the reason then come on this is america innovate! Why else does mbta management get paid, and if cutting is all ur cunningness can provide then do it and stop trying to raise taxes and fairs . Last time i saw mbta doesnt seem to be adding any benefits to riders so why is mbta asking fore more money.

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