T fare hike vote set for March 7 by oversight board

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/22/t-fare-hike-vote-set-for-march-7-by-oversight-board/

BOSTON – The Fiscal and Management Control Board that oversees the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will deliberate on proposed fare increases at its next meeting, on Feb. 29, ahead of a planned vote March 7.

Activists have opposed the two fare increase proposals – which would ratchet fares up an average of 6.7 percent or 9.7 percent – arguing they violate a 2013 cap on fare hikes. Opinions within the Legislature differ on the intent and effect of the fare cap, and the Baker administration holds that it caps fare increases at no more than 10 percent every two years.

Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, supported the lower of the two fare-increase options before the control board.

“The most important thing is the reliability,” said Regan, who said the T has been “broken for 15 years.”

Metropolitan Area Planning Council Executive Director Marc Draisen said MBTA fares have risen an inflation-adjusted 97 percent since 1996 while the value of the gas tax declined 28 percent over the same period. The cost of gasoline has also “declined slightly” when adjusted for inflation, Draisen said.

Rafael Mares, vice president of Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice at the Conservation Law Foundation, urged the MBTA to keep fare increases below 5 percent, and said the budget is “balanced already” without the added fare revenue.

Mares challenged the plan to spend operating budget surplus on capital projects, asserting the T does not have the capacity for that additional capital work, and said a lower hike would gain “credibility” with riders.

Mares is among those who contend lawmakers intended to cap fare hikes at 5 percent every two years.

MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve on Monday reported that 8,000 people participated online and at hearings on the proposal, and said the “vast majority” oppose any hike and feel the current service “doesn’t justify higher fares.”

Shortsleeve also said the turnout at fare hearings has been modest compared to the outcry that met a much larger fare hike proposal in 2012. T fares wound up increasing an average of 23 percent that year.

MBTA staff are working to mitigate concerns about impacts of the fare hikes on those less able to afford them, Shortsleeve said.

Abbie Goodman, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts, supported higher fares.

“Painful as the fare increase is, it is an appropriate and necessary step” to make the T better and more efficient, Goodman said.

Written by Andy Metzger