The MBTA voted today to approve “Scenario 3,” the proposal put forth last week to close the $159 million budget gap the T is facing this fiscal year. The plan is a lot better than the draconian fare increases and drastic service cuts that it initially proposed and we commend the MBTA for listening to the public and all stakeholders’ concerns to get to a 23% increase with minimal service cuts that is within the range of reasonableness, given the T’s desperate financial straits.
Still, that increase will have a very significant impact on low income riders and must be accompanied by measures to mitigate that impact. The MBTA should immediately take action to reduce the impact of a blanket fare increase on transit-dependent riders by implementing reduced or discounted fares for low-income passengers before any increase goes into effect. The MBTA would be following a growing trend around the country. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), 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 offers all Pima County residents over the age of five who meet low-income requirements 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.
Looking ahead, the T must adopt a regular schedule for more modest increases that will mitigate the impact of necessary fare increases and make its own budgeting process more predictable.
To close the FY13 budget gap, the Legislature should immediately approve the revenue solutions proposed in Scenario 3, as well as raise some of its own revenue by drawing on the innovative proposals from the MBTA and leading transportation finance experts. The strategies underpinning these approaches—to diversify revenue sources, and ensure that all who benefit, including our leading institutions, pay their fare share for the benefits they receive from the T—have long been advocated for by CLF and its partners. At at 2010 Blue Ribbon Summit convened by CLF and the Dukakis Center, where some of these ideas were generated, attendees showed support for these approaches, and indeed, many have begun to be implemented in cities across the country.
With Scenario 3, the MBTA has acted in good faith to minimize the burden on riders overall and has done just about as much as the agency can do within its authority. However, CLF believes that the MBTA should go the last mile to ensure that the fare increases don’t prevent the most transit-dependent segments of the population—low-income riders—from the using the system. Then, it’s the Legislature’s turn.
You can read CLF’s detailed position on Scenario 3 here, including specific recommendations for next steps by the MBTA and the Massachusetts legislature.
Update 4/11/12: The Joint Committee on Transportation held a hearing on Monday to consider Governor Patrick’s mini transportation reform bill (H. 4011) which includes the MBTA FY13 budget items that need legislative approval, such as the $51 million in surplus funds expected to accumulate in the vehicle inspection trust fund. During the hearing, some legislators brought up the concern that these surplus funds raised from vehicle inspection fees across the state would be spent only in the MBTA service area. Transportation Secretary Richard Davey explained that 75% of these funds stem from vehicle inspection in the MBTA service area. CLF’s staff attorney Rafael Mares also testified and expressed that CLF supports funding for the Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) around the state in addition to the Governor’s request for funding for the MBTA. The RTAs have requested an additional $15 million for FY13.