The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) announced plans to raise fares on rapid transit to either $2.20 or $2.25 per trip at its Jan. 4 Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) meeting. The proposed fare hikes that would go into effect on July 1 come in response to a long-standing MBTA operating deficit, which is projected to climb from $170 million during the 2016 fiscal year to around $427 million in fiscal year 2020, according to a report by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (massDOT).
In addition to seeking online feedback from community members about the fare increases, the MBTA is holding an ongoing series of Public Fare Proposal Meetings throughout the month of February before the FMCD makes a final decision in March. The meeting schedule can be found on MBTA’s website.
“[The purpose of the] public hearings [is] to invite comments from the community as well as inviting customers to comment via the Internet and via telephone. Attendance at meetings has ranged from meeting to meeting,” MBTA Deputy Press Secretary Jason Johnson told the Daily in an email.
Johnson explained that the MBTA has been searching for a viable financial resource, as fare revenues fail to cover all of the MBTA’s operating expenses. In its annual FMCB report, released on Sept. 22, the FMCB wrote that increasing non-fare own-source revenues to address the structural operating budget deficit and other external options have to be explored.
“The Board fully recognizes that it will also have to… make decisions in the months ahead that will be unpopular, even painful, [but] hopes this clarity of tough but necessary choices will help all stakeholders to recognize the tradeoff between the MBTA we all want and the system we can afford and properly run,” the FMCB wrote.
The FMCB highlighted in its report a series of structural shortcomings that members hope to address, admitting that budgetary and managerial problems with projects such as the Green Line Extension project reflect a greater need for accountability within the MBTA system. Other highlighted failures included poor past funding plans and last winter’s breakdown of the MBTA.
“A decades-long failure to take such actions has enabled serious problems at the MBTA to grow exponentially,” the FMCB report said. “That inability to act must end. Last winter exposed a broken MBTA, revealing not only immediate failures of infrastructure and planning, but deep-seated and fundamental deficiencies across the Authority that have built up over time, including burdensome debt service and unmet maintenance needs.”
Ultimately, the MBTA settled on fare increases as its operating plan, and left the FMCB to vote on several options for fare changes during its Jan. 4 meeting, Johnson explained. Johnson added that the Board narrowed down to the two fare increase options from four original proposals.
“The…FMCB received proposals from staff for possible fare increases, and options for one or more proposals to present to the public. It cited three ways to increase fare revenue: Increase Ridership; Increase Fare Collection; Increase Fare levels,” Johnson said.
In accordance with the FMCD vote, the options have been reduced to either an increase in system-wide average fares by 6.71 percent (Option 1) or 9.77 percent (Option 2), which are projected to increase revenue, by 5.5 percent and 8.2 percent respectively compared to the Fiscal Year 2015, according to MBTA reports. In its overview of the fare proposal, the MBTA explains that the final plan could involve a combination of Options 1 and 2 or may reflect other alternatives posed during the public process, either through the meetings held this month or electronic or mailed feedback, which the MBTA plans to accept through Feb. 12, according to the Public Meeting schedule.
Option 1 would raise a single fare, rapid transit — a CharlieCard trip on the T — from its current price of $2.10 to $2.20, while the Option 2 proposes to increase the fare to $2.25. Both options would enact changes like merging inner and outer express bus zones to a single zone, rounding ticket fairs to the nearest $0.25, setting one price for all discounted passes — seniors, T.A.P. and student– and eliminating the 10-ride Commuter Rail paper ticket.
Whereas other pundits in Massachusetts politics have called for higher revenues as part of the solution, including former Secretary of massDOT Jim Aloisi, who writes about the MBTA in the Commonwealth Magazine, the Baker administration has emphasized operating and efficiency improvements as the primary means to fix the T.
A massDOT MBTA Fare Policy memo signed by Governor Charlie Baker and massDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack from December reiterates that current law caps any fare increases to no more than 10 percent every two years. It also highlights the fact that fares can vary based on different lengths and operational characteristics of trips. For example, commuter rail and ferry boat trips would be priced higher than services restricted to the more urban parts of the city.
First-year Ethan Whitman echoed some of the frustrations mentioned in the FMCB report. Whitman, a Boston-native, says the MBTA has struggled to improve for as long as he can remember.
“In general I would say the MBTA is functional but definitely not outstanding,” Whitman said. “It’s really outdated and the infrastructure needs to be replaced.”
Whitman also said the proposed price hikes for fares are a cause for concern within the community, and are more indicative of a regression rather than an improvement of the system.
“I would oppose them on the grounds that a lot of people rely on the T to get to work and might be struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “I think the MBTA should focus on getting money from a source that doesn’t put pressure on low-income communities.”