MBTA riders could face steep fare hikes

Posted Jan. 03, 2012, at 9:35 p.m.

BOSTON — Public transit riders would face fare hikes as high as 43 percent, along with service cuts, under proposals made Tuesday by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority as it tries to close a projected $161 million budget gap.

State transportation officials unveiled two possible scenarios at a meeting of the MBTA’s Board of Directors. The T has not had a fare hike in five years.

Under one scenario, a bus ride could jump from $1.25 to $1.75 while a subway ride could jump from $1.70 to $2.40 for passengers holding automated CharlieCards.

Under a second scenario, fare increases would rise by a more modest 35 percent — $1.50 for a bus ride and $2.25 for subway — but service cuts would be more extensive.

“Neither choice is appealing to the MBTA, and we know it won’t be appealing to our riders,” said Charles Planck, senior director of strategic initiatives for the agency, in outlining the options to the board.

Both plans call for the elimination of commuter rail service on weekends and would also end ferry service in Boston Harbor.

Officials said they planned to hold 20 public hearings in the coming months before announcing any final decisions. Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey suggested to reporters at a briefing that the final outcome could be a combination of the two scenarios and said officials were still open to considering other proposals, such as off-peak fares that encourage riders to use the T outside of rush hour.

He acknowledged the impact the changes would have on riders.

“These aren’t statistics and money. These are people,” Davey said. “These are customers who rely heavily on the MBTA to get to homes, schools, hospitals and we’re very aware of that,” he said.

In determining service cuts, officials said they tried to identify routes and services with the lowest ridership, so as to impact the fewest number of customers.

Under the proposal calling for a 43 percent fare hike, the T would eliminate 26 percent of existing bus route miles, but by focusing on routes with low ridership, Planck said 98 percent of current bus riders would retain their current service.

Under the plan calling for the lower 35 percent fare hike, the impact on bus routes would be more dramatic — eliminating 78 percent of current mileage while protecting 76 percent of current passengers.

Both plans would also impact seniors and students who enjoy discounts on MBTA service. Those discounts would go from the current 33 percent to 50 percent of base fares.

Parking costs at MBTA stations could increase 20 to 28 percent under the plans.

Prices for the RIDE, a service for disabled passengers, would increase from the current $2 to $3 under one scenario and to $4.50 for the other. Some users of the RIDE who live outside the greater Boston area would have to pay as much as $12 for the service under one of the proposals.

The elimination of weekend commuter rail service would affect suburban residents who use the trains to come into the city on weekends for sporting events or other entertainment. But officials said they believed there were other transportation alternatives, such as parking at an MBTA station outside the city and taking a subway into town.

Ferry riders also would have alternatives, such as buses or trains, to get into the city, officials said.

Customers at the Park Street subway station in downtown Boston reacted to the proposed fare hikes with a mixture of stoicism and skepticism.

“Obviously I don’t like it, but I think it’s somewhat necessary,” said Evan Malley of Somerville, who acknowledged that the MBTA faces difficult financial problems.

“I’ll pay more, but it’s still cheaper than driving,” said Malley, a caterer who said he uses the T every day.

Caren Jones, of Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, said she takes the T to her job as a housekeeper at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a fare increase would take a bigger chunk out of her pay. She said improved service might make it easier to swallow higher fares.

“If they are going to provide better service, like not waiting so long, being on time,” Jones said.

Transportation for Massachusetts Coalition, which advocates for public transit and environmentally sound transportation policy, called for a broader solution to the state’s overall transportation issues.

“Increasing fares is just picking the pockets of the wrong people,” who are doing the right thing for the environment and traffic congestion by taking public transportation, said Rafael Mares, a spokesman for the coalition.

Mares said the state should consider other alternatives, such as raising the 21 cents per gallon gasoline tax paid by motorists.

Davey and MBTA officials said they would continue to look for additional cost savings but added that it was unlikely the T could expect any additional funding from the Legislature given the state’s overall fiscal situation. He also ruled out refinancing the T’s $5.5 billion in debt, a tactic used to stave off fare hikes in the past.

“We’re not putting on the table any imprudent financing of debt, which in part is why the T is in this mess in the first place,” he said.

 

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