State House News Service

MBTA Ridership On Decline Since Fare Hikes

BOSTON — MBTA ridership has declined over the past 10 months, with ridership dropping more steeply so far in 2013, according to data released to the News Service.

From last July, when fare increases went into effect, ridership is down 1.9 percent compared to the same period of fiscal year 2012, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told the News Service.

“But the drop in ridership was much lower than the pre-fare increase projection of a decrease of 5.5 %,” Pesaturo wrote in an email. He also said the MBTA is on track to beat fare revenue expectations leading to a $16.6 million surplus at the end of the fiscal year.

After a contentious series of public hearings and a $49 million one-time state bailout, the MBTA raised fares an average of 23 percent, including steeper increases for seniors. Ridership initially rose slightly after the fare hikes, but then wavered and has been down since December.

Comparing by calendar year, increases throughout the first half of 2012 were enough to end the year with about 2.4 percent more riders than in 2011.

The transit agency is still in fiscal turmoil, since it’s depending on revenues from a still-developing tax-raising legislation. The House and Senate have passed similar versions of a roughly $500 million tax plan to raise transportation funds, but there is no guarantee Gov. Deval Patrick will sign the final version, as he has criticized the Legislature’s plan as too small to accomplish what needs to be done in transportation.

The MBTA is one target for additional transportation funds, which would also fund highways and regional transit authorities. The Conservation Law Foundation calculated that over five year’s Patrick’s plan would increase transportation spending by $858 million annually, the House would increase it by $504 million and the Senate by $602 million.

When the Transportation Board passed the $1.86 billion MBTA budget in late March, it left a $118 million gap to be filled by anticipated tax legislation. If the tax revenue failed to materialize, that would mean additional fare hikes and service cuts, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott said at the time.

Last year’s fare hikes had less of a drain on ridership than had been projected, and the decline was more modest in the months immediately following the fare hike. But from December through April, every month has featured ridership declines compared to the same month a year ago.

Since December 2012, ridership has been down a monthly average of 2.9 percent compared to the year prior, according to MBTA data.

A dip of 3.5 percent in April was due in part to the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, the April 19 manhunt and the related public transit shutdown or temporary station closures, Pesaturo said.

“Ridership fell significantly in the immediate days following the bombings, and of course, service was shut down completely for almost fourteen hours on April 19th,” Pesaturo said.

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