They say that passing legislation is like making sausages. That may be true, but sometimes it is more like waiting for the bus.
Almost two months ago, the board of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) approved a balanced operating budget for the coming fiscal year, which includes revenue sources that still need legislative approval. Today, the Boston Globe reported about the continuing lack of a resolution. How much progress has been made?
Well, if you look closely at your “Where is my bus?” app, you can see that we are slowly getting somewhere. The house members of the Joint Committee on Transportation succeeded at locating the MBTA operating budget related measures in the Governor’s bill among the long list of corrective changes to the structure of MassDOT, stripped the legislation of all of its non-pressing parts, set aside $6.5 million for the state’s fifteen regional transit authorities (RTAs), which are also cash-strapped, changed some of the revenue sources, added enough funds to make sure the MBTA’s FY13 operating budget is still balanced, and reported the bill out of committee. According to the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, the full House is likely to vote on the package in the next two weeks. After that, of course, we still have a good distance to go before the MBTA’s budget is truly balanced. This process cannot take too long, however, since the fare increases and service cuts are supposed to take effect on July 1.
Missing from this timeline, however, despite a number of protests, is a discussion on Beacon Hill on how to protect the MBTA’s most transit-dependent riders from the impending fare increase. The budget assumes a fare increase of 23%, even with the legislature’s help. CLF has proposed a reduced or discounted fare for low-income passengers. This could help the MBTA ensure that a fare increase is equitable. The MBTA would be following a growing trend in the country. The Chicago Transit Authority, for example, in September of 2011, launched free fare cards for low-income seniors, paired with reduced fares for all seniors. Sun Tran in Tuscan, Arizona all Pima County residents over the age of five who meet low-income requirements are eligible for a reduced fare. C-TRAN in Vancouver, Washington, also has a similar program for low-income residents, as do Iowa City Transit in Iowa City, Iowa and Kitsap Transit in Kitsap County, Washington. We are still waiting for this concept to be added to the legislation.
When can we expect progress on this front? I don’t know, but maybe the MBTA has an app for that.