MBTA Board Votes In Favor Of Fare Hike Proposal, With Some Changes

Commuters wait on the platform as an Orange Line train enters Downtown Crossing station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Commuters wait on the platform as an Orange Line train enters Downtown Crossing station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Commuters will have to pay more to ride the commuter rail and subway in the Boston area.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday voted to boost fares an average of about 6 percent.

CharlieCard subway fares would rise 15 cents to $2.40. Commuter rail prices would vary by region, but the maximum increase for a one-way fare would be 75 cents.

The board opted to exempt bus fares from hikes. Student and senior fares would also be exempt from the hike.

Changes to the most common fares and passes (Courtesy of the MBTA)
Changes to the most common fares and passes (Courtesy of the MBTA)

The vote was 4-0, with board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt abstaining.

The fare hikes would take effect July 1. The T says they would raise about $29 million annually.

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The vote came after dozens of riders, activists and elected officials spoke out against the hike, saying it would hit the region's low-income residents the hardest.

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu was among those who spoke at the public hearing to oppose the fare hikes. Wu has said the MBTA and public officials should instead be working toward a goal of making public transit free.

She joined others who said the state should be looking to other sources of funding for the MBTA instead of raising fares. Activists say those alternate sources of funding should include hiking the state gas tax, looking at so-called "congestion pricing" plans, and raising fees on ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

"Agencies at all levels of government across the city and state have painted a vision that we all support that we want to reach for — where transit is fundamental, inclusive and accessible and expanding and reliable and affordable," Wu said. "This fare hike will not get us there. It is nowhere near the funding needed to reach that vision."

Environmental groups also opposed the fare hike, saying it could force some riders back into cars, which could increase pollution.

"Low fares are an equity and environmental justice issue and can reduce congestion," said Robert Kearns of the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club.

Opponents said the hikes are particularly difficult for lower-income riders and those on a fixed income who are already struggling with rising health care and housing costs. They called on the board to delay the vote and do more to reach out and hear from those riders.

Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, spoke out in favor of the fare hikes, but with a caveat. Regan said the hikes would generate new revenues — which would go to expenses like wage increases and pensions — without visibly improving service.

"If the fare increase is already spent before it's implemented, what can we do to improve service?" Regan said. "I'm recommending that the board raise the fares and commit to spending all of the $127 million in its operating budget ... to attempt to noticeably improve service."

Another public official speaking out against the hike was Democratic state Rep. Mike Connelly who represents Somerville and Cambridge, an area served by several subway and bus lines.

Connelly also called for additional forms of revenues to help fund the MBTA, including taxing large businesses, wealthy individuals and hiking fees on Uber and Lyft.

"In this time of profound wealth and income inequality, the prospect of raising fares on the riding public is really equivalent to class warfare," he said.

State law limits MBTA fare hikes to 7 percent within each two-year period. The last time they were raised was in 2016.

The board also approved a measure designed to put off any fare hike for at least three years.

With additional reporting by the WBUR Newsroom

This article was originally published on March 11, 2019.



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