Funding transit in MA: We'll get there | Conservation Law Foundation

Funding transit in MA: We’ll get there

Rafael Mares

Yesterday, the Globe published a story covering a legislative hearing about MBTA commuter rail service, specifically, reacting to passengers’ dissatisfaction with the system after a particularly harsh winter and increasing number of service interruptions. Department of Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan reported that the combined on-time performance for all commuter rail lines was 72 percent– which may sound like a decent number until your train is one of the 28 percent that sat on the tracks through dinnertime or left you shivering on a platform for the first hour of your daily commute.

The article reports that much of the discussion focused on the woeful fiscal condition of our transportation system. With transportation officials throwing around numbers concerning operating budget deficits, capital needs, and debt, all in the hundreds of millions of dollars, it is easy to lose hope.  Funding transit, however, is not an intractable problem.  At the hearing, while repeating MassDOT’s focus on “reform before revenue,” Secretary Mullan stated that “we won’t be able to cost-cut our way out of the deficit,” and expressed need for a conversation about revenue.

A report released Tuesday by CLF and Northeastern‘s Dukakis Center suggests a framework around which such a conversation could begin. The framework explains the need for diversified transit financing and suggests putting the broadest possible range of revenue sources on the table at the outset. Such solutions could include lower off-peak fares or universal pass programs for students. There’s also the possibility of granting Massachusetts cities and towns the authority to raise additional local revenue in form of fees or taxes to support services like transit. Other states, including Rhode Island, are already deep into this conversation. It is time for Massachusetts to follow suit.

The framework was developed based on conclusions gleaned from a Blue-Ribbon Summit held by the two groups last November. The Summit brought leading transit finance experts from across the country together to explore potential solutions to better fund Massachusetts’ transit system. To learn more about CLF’s work to modernize transportation, go here.

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