Oppose Big and Unpredictable MBTA Fare Hikes

Jun 26, 2015 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Earlier this year, Governor Baker proposed legislation that would have made the MBTA more expensive and less reliable. In particular, Gov. Baker’s bill would have removed the current limits on fare increases. (For a more detailed analysis, see the May 2015 CLF blog post, “How NOT to Fix the MBTA: Governor Baker’s Reform Bill.”)

Now a redraft of the transit legislation is moving forward in the Massachusetts legislature. This new bill does not include fare increases, which is a positive sign! But there is still a danger that fare increase language will be added back in. That’s why it’s urgent that you act now and contact the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Tell them to leave in place the current limits on fare increases, so that riders are protected from big and unpredictable fare hikes.

Under current law, the MBTA is already allowed to raise fares by 5% every other year. This structured approach to fare increases protects Massachusetts residents by making fares more affordable and predictable. It is also considered a best practice among other transit agencies across the country.

But Gov. Baker and others have proposed instead allowing the MBTA to raise fares at any time, which could lead to steep and unpredictable increases. Removing those limits on fare increases would be an economic and environmental disaster. When prices go up, low-and-middle-income people are hardest hit.

We’ve been here before. Before 2013, the MBTA was allowed to increase fares without limitation or a planned schedule. As a result, the MBTA wouldn’t raise fares for years, but then they would suddenly propose large increases — leaving all of us who use the T to deal with fare shock. As a result, some high-school students couldn’t go to school every day, seniors skipped doctors appointments, and people across Massachusetts faced other hard choices.

In short, some riders may be forced to choose between getting to work or school on transit and paying for other essentials like food and utilities. Other riders will switch to driving, because taking public transportation no longer seems like a cost saving. This additional driving then increases fossil fuel emissions and contributes to climate change.

Contact the Massachusetts House of Representatives today to oppose big and unpredictable MBTA fare hikes.

CLF Supporters Defend Public Transportation and Protections for MBTA Riders

Jun 24, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

When a new bill from Gov. Charlie Baker threatened to make public transportation more expensive and less reliable, CLF supporters and other transit activists took action. Massachusetts residents who are committed to an affordable and sustainable public transportation system contacted their legislators and asked them to oppose the most harmful provisions in Baker’s bill.

Gov. Baker’s legislation, which the legislature began considering in May, would have done the following: cut $581 million over six years from the state’s transportation system, including not only the MBTA, but also roads, bridges, bikeways and sidewalks; allowed unpredictable and extreme fare hikes; opened the door to charging riders more for transfers; and lead to service cuts. This legislation was a significant economic and environmental threat. It also failed to implement some of the key reform measures recommended by the governor’s own review panel. (For a more detailed analysis of Baker’s legislation, see the May 2015 CLF blog post, “How NOT to Fix the MBTA: Governor Baker’s Reform Bill.”)

But thanks to CLF supporters and other transit advocates, including groups like Transportation for Massachusetts, some of the worst provisions of this bill are no longer on the table. The Massachusetts legislature has moved on from Baker’s original bill and proposed an alternative piece of legislation that would still focus on improving transportation, but without unpredictable fare hikes and increased transfer charges. It even added a few great improvements for Regional Transit Authorities. To learn more about where things now stand in the legislature and some of the challenges still ahead, read this recent Boston Globe article.

Thank you to all of our supporters in Massachusetts who have spoken up for public transportation. The legislative process is not yet over and we’ll continue to call on you when your voice is needed most!

How NOT to Fix the MBTA: Governor Baker’s Reform Bill

May 18, 2015 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Last week, I testified before the Massachusetts State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation. I was there, along with hundreds of other people, including Governor Baker himself, to comment on the Governor’s proposed MBTA reform bill, which would put the beleaguered transit system under the authority of a fiscal control board, among other reforms.

Governor Baker has challenged the state legislature to pass this bill by June 30. But the Governor’s bill is a bad deal for the MBTA and the people of Massachusetts who deserve (and need) an equitable, reliable, and safe transportation system. CLF is urging the legislature to reject this bill as written, as it fails to address key reform issues with the MBTA, while also cutting much-needed funding not only for public transit but for other parts of the state’s transportation system. If this bill passes, it won’t be the Governor who feels the pinch from these ill-advised reforms, but the people of Massachusetts who rely on this system every day.


If Governor Baker’s MBTA reform bill passes as is, the long waits and erratic service riders experienced this past winter could become the norm. Join us in urging Massachusetts legislators to reject this irresponsible bill.

Refinancing the Transportation Finance Act
In 2013, the state legislature passed the landmark Transportation Finance Act. This bill provided $600 million per year, on average, over five years towards the maintenance of Massachusetts’ bridges and roads, rails, and public transit system. Now, however, those funds are under threat. As proposed, the MBTA reform bill would repeal important provisions of the Transportation Finance Act, ultimately reducing revenue for the MBTA at a time when revenue reforms are critical to the system’s future health and sustainability.

The funding cuts in the Governor’s bill add up to $581 million over six years. Those cuts wouldn’t be just for public transit, however. Funds for bridge and road repair and other parts of the state’s transportation system are impacted, too. Given that the Transportation Finance Act left a funding gap between what it authorized and what is actually needed, this additional revenue cut will mean the operations of the statewide transportation system will suffer and maintenance will have to be deferred. And that’s not good news for any of us, whether we drive, walk, bike, ride the bus, or take the train to work every day.

Putting Riders Back on the Fare Hike Rollercoaster
The reform bill also proposes eliminating another key piece of the Transportation Finance Act – one that mandates that the MBTA can raise fares by 5% every other year. The Governor’s bill would instead return the MBTA to its old (and ineffective) approach of raising fares on an as-needed basis. In the past, this usually meant that the agency held off raising fares for as long as it could, and then proposed a steep fare hike to make up for it. That model was not only ineffective at stabilizing revenue but understandably angered MBTA riders. The newly adopted system is considered best practice among other transit agencies across the country. But if the Governor’s bill passes as is, then all of us who rely on the MBTA will be dealing once again with unpredictable – and unreasonable – fare hikes.

Capping Critical Funding Stream
Another important, but less well understood, part of the Governor’s bill would cut specific funding from the MBTA – $220 million over two fiscal years. This seems like exactly the wrong tactic to close the MBTA’s budget gap and maintain reliable service. Limiting state contract assistance as proposed could leave the agency with no choice but to cut services at a time when transit service is needed more than ever. With service cuts, the long waits and erratic service riders experienced this winter could become the norm for many of us – an ironic and clearly unacceptable result of a “reform” bill.

Charging Riders for the Transfers
Finally, Governor Baker’s bill seeks to remove the law that requires free or substantially reduced price transfers for riders whose commutes involve switching from one mode of transportation to another. But charging people more for the inconvenience of having to move from, say, the bus to the subway, is not only counterintuitive, it is likely to hurt those riders who can’t afford to pay a double fare the most. We would all cry foul if an airline charged us more for fares requiring a connection than for nonstop flights; we actually expect to pay less for a stopover. Charging more for a connection on public transportation is no different – and certainly adds up more quickly for those for whom the T is their primary means of transportation.

Missing Key Reforms
Even as the Governor’s bill proposes these ill-advised changes to revenue structures for the MBTA, it fails to include some key recommendations made by the Governor’s own Special Panel to Review the MBTA. Key among these is a requirement to take employee salaries out of the agency’s capital budget. The Transportation Finance Act of 2013 required the phasing out of this inefficient practice at MassDOT. Now, it should be required of the MBTA. While this shift would require new operating support from the Commonwealth, it ultimately lowers the MBTA’s overall labor costs by reducing interest payments on capital expenses.

The Special Panel also proposed creating a new, protected capital fund dedicated to rehabilitation and modernization of the system. By basing the fund on 5- and 20-year capital plans, the MBTA would stabilize its capital expenditures and ensure more regular ongoing maintenance practices – ultimately creating a more reliable system for riders.

Take Action: Contact Your Legislators
The bottom line is that this bill as written is irresponsible. The Governor’s Special Panel was right that fixing the MBTA requires both reform and revenue. But the Governor’s bill actually cuts revenue for the state’s entire transportation system – while leaving out important reform measures recommended by the Governor’s own advisors. It’s bad math for the MBTA and a bad idea for the people of Massachusetts.

Join CLF in urging Massachusetts’ legislators to pursue more balanced and effective legislative solutions that will create the 21st-century transportation system we need to ensure a healthy economy and thriving communities across the Commonwealth. Click here to take action today.

MBTA Green Line Extension Finally on Track Thanks to Federal Funding

Dec 3, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Before the MBTA rings in the New Year on December 31, they have a big deadline to meet: completing the extension of the Green Line to Somerville and Medford. That this deadline is going to pass those communities by without new transit service is not news to anyone. So it was wonderful to learn this week that the state has all but secured close to a billion dollars in federal funding to move this important transit project forward.

With help from the Federal Transit Authority, the MBTA Green Line Extension appears to finally be on track. ©MBTA

With help from the Federal Transit Authority, the MBTA Green Line Extension appears to finally be on track. ©MBTA

Those monies are coming from the Federal Transit Authority, which sent a letter to Congress on December 1 expressing its intention to execute a full funding grant agreement (FFGA) with the MBTA for the design and construction of the 4.7-mile, seven-station extension. The remaining costs for the estimated $2.3 billion project will come from bonds and state operating funds. The FFGA is subject to a 30-day Congressional review, which, coincidentally, is scheduled to end on December 31, the original deadline for the project’s completion.

CLF has pushed for improved transit service for decades, and, in 2006, reached a settlement agreement with the Commonwealth for its failure to meet its commitments to offset increased traffic and pollution from the Big Dig – a settlement that required the MBTA Green Line extension be completed by December 31 of this year. This infusion of federal funds is welcome news for CLF, our partners, and the community members who have waited too long for the state to fulfill its promise – giving us all two reasons to celebrate on New Year’s Eve.

Transportation for Massachusetts Coalition Releases Progress Report on Transportation Finance Act of 2013

Mar 20, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

A new report released today by Transportation for Massachusetts and co-authored by CLF Staff Attorney Rafael Mares evaluates the implementation of the Transportation Finance Act of 2013 since its passage last July. The report is the first in a series of planned progress reports aimed at ensuring the new law’s success at addressing the most burning needs of the state’s ailing transportation system.

Last July, the Massachusetts legislature passed the historic funding package, which is projected to raise an estimated $600 million annually for the next five years. While this much-needed infusion of funds is a solid step in the right direction, it falls far short of addressing the full spectrum of funding needs – estimated at $1 billion per year over the next 20 years – across Massachusetts’ roads, rails, and public transit systems.

Transportation Progress Report

The progress report released today points to both positive achievements and future threats to success.

The progress report released today points to both positive achievements of the Act so far as well as future threats to its success. Among the pluses are needed funds for the operation of regional transit authorities (RTAs) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), as well as new capital projects including the purchase of new Red and Orange Line cars for the MBTA, the extension of the Green Line, reconstruction of the I-91 Viaduct in Springfield, and more than 75 additional road and bridge projects.

Among the areas of concern is the lack of adequate funding for the package – many of the projects originally earmarked in the Act do not have enough, or any, funding to move forward. For example, there is insufficient funding available for the timely replacement of RTA buses. Likewise, replacement of Green Line cars was slated for more than $700 million in funding last year, but barely $2.5 million has been reserved for the project.

In its first six months, the report concludes, the legislature and Patrick administration have met the overall expectations of the law, and the new revenues raised are close to what was projected. But, the Commonwealth will have to maintain this pace and catch up on a few deadlines imposed by the Act if this progress is to stay on track. As CLF and fellow coalition members at Transportation for Massachusetts continue to monitor the Act’s implementation we hope that these bi-annual progress reports will help transportation advocates and policy makers identify the unmet needs of the transportation system and take the actions needed to address them.

Read the first progress report now >>

MA Transportation Funding Framework: More (or really less) to the supposedly budget-minded proposal than meets the eye

Apr 4, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means jointly announced a transportation finance framework. Upon close review, there is more (or really less) to the supposedly budget-minded proposal than meets the eye.

In short, the legislature’s answer to MassDOT’s ten-year transportation plan would neither be big enough (it does not even attempt to close the one billion dollar revenue gap), nor long enough (only five years) to meet the Commonwealth’s fundamental transportation needs. The framework would not cover the maintenance of our transportation system, nor keep it in a state of good repair, let alone allow for any investment in modernization. This would leave the entire transportation system vulnerable, staunching economic opportunity by locking in another five years of chronic underfunding for transportation. And rather than providing a real, long-term solution to the real problems associated with chronic underfunding, it guarantees we’ll be having this conversation all over again as soon as next year.

Here is what you should know about the framework:

1)    How the revenue will be raised:

  • The $519 million per year price tag that the legislature is putting on its proposal includes revenue to be raised from the following sources: a $.03 gas tax increase ($95M), indexing the gas tax to inflation starting in 2015 ($15M), a tax on cigarettes, cigars and tobacco products ($165 M), a tax on computer services ($161M), elimination of utility tax classifications ($45M), and a change in the source of sales for multistate corporations ($35M).
  • However, not all of the new revenue is dedicated to transportation. Rather, a total of $260 million per year on average is not allocated to transportation or any other purpose as of now. Apparently no agreement has been reached on how to spend this portion of the new revenue.
  • What the legislature did not advertise is that the framework also directs MassDOT and the MBTA to raise an additional average of $214 per year from unspecified revenue sources the agencies have under their own control. Such revenue sources include primarily fares, tolls, and Registry of Motor Vehicles fees. While modest, planned and regularly scheduled fare, toll, and RMV fee increases are advisable, the amount MassDOT and MBTA would be expected to raise from these sources under the legislature’s proposed framework is nearly double the amount MassDOT proposed to raise from this category in its plan. As a result, it is fair to expect that fares, tolls, and RMV fees would go up as soon as July 1, 2014, and again in the fiscal years 2016 and 2018. So much for the committees’ spin that their stripped-down framework is mindful of people’s pocketbooks.
  • The framework also includes other transportation revenue sources from gambling revenues, contributions from the Convention Center, and contributions from MassPort ($40M).

2)    How the revenue will be spent:

  • While the framework does not list all the particulars on how the money could be spent, it promises to stop borrowing to pay for operating expenses over a three-year period and to provide full funding for snow and ice removal (phased in over a two-year period).
  • The MBTA’s operating deficit would be close to covered for five years, but not quite.
  • The state’s fifteen regional transit authorities (RTAs) would be forward funded in 2014, but would receive a significantly reduced investment from what MassDOT originally proposed. Instead of an additional $100 million/year, the fifteen RTAs would have to make do with an additional $18 million/year.

3)    What is not covered:

  • The framework does not identify any money to borrow for new capital projects. Hence the Commonwealth would not have the ability to address its overwhelming maintenance backlog. Therefore, there would not be enough funding to rehabilitate our structurally deficient bridges (there are over 400 of them in Massachusetts), replace the Red Line, Orange Line, and Green Line cars that are beyond their useful lives, repair the I-91 viaduct, and swap out old RTA buses.
  • The RTAs would continue to be underfunded. As a result, a combination of restoration of service previously cut, increased frequency of service, and longer evening and weekend service will not be possible.
  • No new investment in our state’s transportation system would occur. Think no South Station expansion, no South Coast Rail, no new bike and pedestrian paths, or other improvements. It is noteworthy that the Green Line Extension to Somerville and Medford is legally required, but the New Starts application for federal money, which requires the MBTA’s financial house to be in order, would be put at risk and could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance. Additional delays could also be expected.
  • Although a separate bond bill authorizes an additional $100 million for next year to be spent on local road maintenance, the insufficient amount of money in the framework for debt service and other more pressing needs would mean that this increase could not be released.

While the proposed framework purports to be sustainable, adequate, and simple, on closer look, it unfortunately achieves none of these laudable goals. No matter which way you slice the numbers, there isn’t enough there to achieve the most basic improvements needed to ensure the safety and reliability of our public transit systems, roads and bridges.

Raising taxes at this time is clearly necessary to fund our transportation system, but if we ask people to pay more, we need to make sure that they have something to show for it. This framework fails that simple test.

Let’s Make It Last: Investing our Transportation Dollars Wisely

Mar 1, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Since Governor Patrick proposed his plan to raise revenue for transportation and education, a lot of time has been spent on discussing the merits of the revenue sources he has chosen. In comparison, relatively little time has been devoted to how such money should be spent. The great American humorist Evan Esar once wisely said, “The mint makes it first, it is up to you to make it last.”

Transportation for Massachusetts has worked closely with Representatives Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield, Representative Carl Sciortino of Medford, Senator Katherine Clark of Melrose, and others to draft legislation that addresses this side of the coin. In addition, Transportation for Massachusetts helped develop a bill that could prepare Massachusetts for better ways to raise revenue for transportation in the future. In total there are currently three great bills pending that Transportation for Massachusetts helped develop.

Here they are:

An Act relative to transportation investment, regional fairness, and accountability to state policies (HD 3119 introduced by Rep. Farley-Bouvier, Rep. Sciortino, and S. 1670 by Senator Clark) will guide any transportation investments the legislature and the governor agree on to build a financially stable, safer and more modern transportation system in every corner of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This bill would:

  • Eliminate the unsustainable practice of paying for day-to-day operational costs of our highway system by borrowing through state bonds (currently, MassDOT is spending roughly $1.75 for every $1.00 borrowed because of the interest on the bonds);
  • Require that an equitable portion of transportation revenue benefit all regions throughout the Commonwealth;
  • Set aside funding for Gateway Cities and environmental justice neighborhoods to plan and design projects that are eligible for federal transportation money. This would allow these communities to invest in projects that residents care most about—such as fixing roads and bridges, improving Regional Transit Authorities, and investing in sidewalks, bike lanes, and other projects that promote transit oriented development and affordable housing;
  • Require that transportation projects comply with existing policy goals and objectives that reduce pollution, improve public health, improve land-use coordination and meet our mode shift goals;
  • Require that transportation investments over $15 million be analyzed for their impact on our economy, environment, public health, low-income communities and communities of color, pedestrian and bike access, and cost of operations;
  • Ensure that sufficient money is available for critical maintenance and safety investments; and
  • Support the state’s existing mode shift goal to triple trips made on public transportation, biking and walking across the Commonwealth.

An Act relative to contract assistance for Central Artery debt of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (H. 3141 introduced by Rep. Sciortino) proposes a way to address the crippling debt load at the MBTA by paying down the debt related to the Central Artery Project. The legislation would require that the Commonwealth provide contract assistance from the Commonwealth Transportation Fund for the Big Dig debt held by the MBTA. This money couldn’t come out of funds that are already set to support investments at the MBTA or RTAs.

An Act relative to the establishment of a vehicle mileage user fee pilot program by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (H. 3142 introduced by Rep. Farley-Bouvier and Rep. Sciortino) proposes a voluntary vehicle miles traveled pilot program to identify alternatives and supplements to the gas tax. The pilot seeks 1000 volunteers from the entire Commonwealth to evaluate ways to protect data collected, ensure privacy, and vary pricing based on time of driving, type of road, proximity to transit and vehicle fuel in order to help Massachusetts prepare for the future of transportation revenue.

We are grateful to the legislative sponsors of these bills who share our commitment to creating and sustaining a 21st-century transportation system that serves all people in communities across thes state.

You can also find this post on the Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA) blog.

Not Much Fat in the Governor’s “Ambitious” Transportation Funding Plan

Jan 25, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

My son’s third grade class is looking for “juicy” adjectives, and I found one.  Again and again, journalists are describing the Massachusetts Governor’s 21st Century Transportation Plan, which proposes to raise revenue for our chronically underfunded transportation system, as “ambitious.” Not the kind of “ambitious” your mother admired in you when you were a college student, but the “ambitious” that implies hubris. As in asking for a lot. Maybe even too much. Insisting that the Governor’s plan is “ambitious” immediately gets people thinking about how they can cut it down to size. So before the knives come out, having carefully reviewed the plan and understanding the real needs of our transportation system well, let’s take a look at what’s really in there:

  • The plan proposes to increase Chapter 90 funding for local street maintenance and associated projects from $200 to $300 million per year.  The Massachusetts Municipal Association, however, just recently estimated the actual need to be $562 million per year.
  • Likewise, the Governor’s plan only dedicates 23% of the capital to strategic expansion projects, the rest is all maintenance of roads, bridges and transit infrastructure, replacement of old trains and buses, capacity upgrades, and other costs of the current system.
  • More importantly, only 4% of the money set aside in the Governor’s plan for operations is related to strategic expansion projects.
  • The plan also assumes that good and necessary transportation projects which have long been recommended by transportation planners and economists, such as the Red-Blue Connector and the Urban Ring, would be left unfunded over the next ten years.

I don’t know whether “reasonable” or perhaps “conservative” would be juicy enough adjectives for my son and his friends, but they would surely be a more accurate description of the Governor’s transportation plan.

Read My Lips: We Need More Money for Transportation

Jan 24, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

When Governor Deval Patrick stood before the Legislature and the people of Massachusetts last week to offer a bold proposal to raise $1 billion per year to fund critical investments in transportation, he struck a skillful balance between the pragmatic and the visionary, appealing to us as both taxpayers and investors in a thriving Commonwealth.  The Governor asked his constituents to “Imagine if you could depend on a bus or subway that came on time, was safe and comfortable… if the Green Line ran to Medford and the commuter rail ran to Springfield,” among other improvements. He made sure to emphasize that everyone would benefit from a 21st century transportation system, whether they drive a car or take public transit, from one end of the state to the other. And he proposed that everyone pay their share, according to their ability.

It’s a good proposal and a badly needed one. The question now is how to get the buy-in we need to make it happen. Not surprisingly, it’s not too hard to find political opponents and citizens of the Commonwealth to speak out against the proposed tax increases. Who wants a tax increase? It’s like asking someone whether they want a root canal. But if you ask a person in that special dental pain whether she would be willing to pay a fair price to make it go away – indeed to be able to enjoy biting into a delicious crunchy apple —she would almost certainly agree that her investment would be worth it.

With Massachusetts’ transportation system so woefully underfunded for many decades, we are all in that special pain. Crumbling bridges, decaying train cars, vanishing bus routes and unfinished projects are daily reminders that we’ve got a problem that needs to be fixed. And we all have our own version of that delicious apple:  our mode of transportation that gets us where we need to go, when we need to go, safely, reliably and affordably. The problem is that people want the pain to go away – indeed, they want the apple! – but, politicians fear, they don’t want to pay for it.

In fact, a MassINC poll conducted last year showed that 62% of people surveyed said that they would be willing to pay more than they are paying now to improve the transportation system – up to a point. So, maybe we should be asking people not whether they agree with the Governor’s proposal to raise taxes, but rather, whether they agree that a working transportation system is a worthwhile investment. More frequent trains. Easy connections between distant parts of the state. Fast access to the airport. And why stop there? What about cleaner air, less congested roads and more vibrant communities with thriving businesses and the jobs they bring? Let’s talk about the benefits, like the Governor started to do, and help the savvy taxpayer see how her investment will pay off – now and in the future. Our legislators need to hear from the transit champions. C’mon…we know you’re out there.