Baker’s MBTA fare amendment raises equity, predictability issues

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STATE HOUSE — Gov. Charlie Baker wants to give the MBTA a freer hand in raising fares, sending back to the Legislature a budgetary provision that would have imposed stricter limits on raising rider revenue.

The budget provision is intended to limit fare hikes, allowing the T to increase the cost of any single fare or pass by up to 7 percent once every two years.

Baker wants the language to instead cap fare increases at 7 percent on average over a two-year period, while allowing increases to take place more often than once every two years.

In his message sending the provision back to the Legislature, Baker said the provision would “impair the MBTA’s ability to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to deliver the reliable transit system that riders deserve.”

Fares on July 1 went up an average of 9.3 percent, at the direction of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board and under a 2013 law passed capping fare hikes at 10 percent every two years. The fare hikes also varied based on type of service and other factors, so that regular subway passes increased about 12 percent while senior passes increased about 3 percent. Cash bus fares went down 10 cents.

Senators argued the 2013 law was intended to cap fares at 5 percent every two years, and the House and Senate agreed in the final version of the fiscal 2017 budget to a compromise 7 percent cap on fare increases every two years.

Rafael Mares, a transit advocate and vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, said the Legislature’s language would add predictability for riders and corporations that subsidize employee transit passes.

Mares said under Baker’s proposed change the MBTA could raise fares “whenever they feel like it,” and individual fares could “go really high” as long as they balance out on average under the 7 percent cap.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said earlier this year there are “over 180 different fares and discounts offered by the MBTA.”

Baker said capping the increases on each individual fare would “prohibit the MBTA from adjusting fares in the most equitable manner for different classes of riders.”

Mares countered that the T could “still have flexibility within the 7 percent,” and said riders paying more this summer have yet to see and feel improvements “on the ground.”

MBTA officials have said they made strides in reducing the number of dropped bus trips, and new Red and Orange Line cars are scheduled to be built at manufacturing facility in Springfield.

Baker’s amendment returns the matter to the Legislature, where the House has favored a higher cap on fare hikes than the Senate, and where lawmakers face a July 31 deadline to pass controversial bills.

During informal sessions that start in August and will likely run through December, any legislator can block a bill from advancing.

— Written by Andy Metzger

Copyright State House News Service