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Hidden with code "Submitted as Feature"
News :: Environment
T Fare Hike Hearings Off to a Rough Start
07 Jun 2006
Boston -- The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority held the first of a series of public hearings about a proposed subway and bus fare increase Tuesday in an overflowing and contentious meeting room at the Boston Public Library. Hundreds of people filled the room in the library’s Copley Square branch to express their opposition to the fare increase.
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MBTA officials appeared surprised by the large attendance that included testimony from local advocacy groups the T Riders Union, the Sierra Club, and Mass PIRG. Representatives of the Green-Rainbow Party and Democratic Party also testified.

If approved, adult bus fares on local routes would increase to $1.25 and subway rides would increase to $1.70. Monthly bus passes would cost $40 and the new monthly “One Pass” would cost $62. The One Pass would replace the current Combo Pass that allows riders to use the bus and subway.

Prior to the hearing about 50 people attended a rally in Copley Square organized by the T Riders Union. In a written statement distributed at the rally, TRU criticized the T’s proposal to raise fares a third time in 5 years. Calling public transportation a human right, the statement identified the need for reliable service, T accountability, and greater financial support from the state government.

Dennis DiZoglio, MBTA deputy general manager for development, explained the fare increase by noting that the state’s “forward funding” system provided $70 million less for fiscal year 2007 than anticipated. Since 2001, the MBTA has received $113 million less than anticipated. Approved by the legislature in 2000, forward funding reserved 1 cent of the state sales tax for the MBTA. In addition to the sales tax revenue, the 2000 legislation funds the MBTA through assessments on cities served by the agency and rider fares. Rider fares provide 28 percent of the MBTA’s revenue, assessments provide 10 percent, and advertising and other non-fare revenue provides 7 percent.

The sales tax shortfall contributed to the agency’s $5.2 billion debt. With interest, the debt tops $8 billion. According to DiZoglio, approximately 50% of the debt preceded forward funding. Currently, almost 30% of the MBTA’s budget is allocated to pay for the existing debt.

Several elected officials and gubernatorial candidates followed the MBTA’s presentation. Seventy minutes remained for testimony from the public.

Grace Ross, Green-Rainbow candidate for governor, suggested that the T seek revenue from local businesses and the state legislature rather than riders. “Riders don’t have the money,” Ross said.

Echoing a statement made by state Senator Jarrett Barrios, Ross said that downtown businesses benefit from the bus and subway services. Citing tax incentives that the Boston Redevelopment Authority provides large businesses in downtown Boston, Ross said that those businesses should provide more money for the bus and subway services that enable their customers and employees to commute.

Barrios said that all of the state’s residents benefit from the MBTA therefore the state legislature should provide more funding for the bus and subway services.

Deval Patrick, candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, also opposed the proposed fare increase and questioned the forward funding scheme. “The current funding structure is not sustainable,” Patrick said. He said that this is not the right time for an increase given the high cost of gas and stagnant wages. Patrick added that a fare increase would decrease ridership and most severely impact working families and people on a fixed income.

The hearing occurred in a 150-seat room that filled before the hearing began. Several people were visibly angered by the inadequate space. As the hearing started, one person outside shouted “This is not a public hearing if you don’t let the public in.”

A person in the room stood up and loudly counted the empty seats. An MBTA employee quickly yelled at him from the front of the room, “Do not speak out again.”

The MBTA will hold similar hearings in Lynn, Attleboro, Arlington, and Mattapan in the following weeks.

The MBTA is accepting comments from the public until June 30, 2006. Comments can be emailed to fareproposal (at) mbta.com or mailed to MBTA-Attn: Fare Proposal, 10 Park Plaza, Budget Office, Boston, MA 02116.
See also:
http://www.mbta.com/contact_us/publicmeetings.asp

This work is in the public domain