The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) board of directors on Wednesday approved a fiscal year 2013 budget that includes a 23 percent average systemwide fare hike to buses, rapid transit, and other commuter services in Greater Boston and beyond. The proposal also cuts or reduces services on more than a dozen bus routes and eliminates weekend service on three commuter rail lines.
The fare hike and service reductions, which go into effect July 1, come after two months of public hearings in which thousands of “T” riders spoke out against the impact of the proposed changes. The MBTA faced a $185 million deficit in its $1.7 billion annual budget, in large part due to annual costs associated with the Big Dig construction project that was plagued by delays and cost overruns. The driving force for the cuts are principal and interest payments on $5.2 billion owed to lenders.
A crowd of about 200 people shouted down the MBTA board, chanting “Shame on you!” following a 4-1 vote to implement the changes. In addition to the fare hikes and service cuts, the new budget is contingent on $61 million in one-time revenues yet to be approved by the state legislature. This includes $51 million from a motor vehicle inspection trust fund, $5 million from a snow and ice removal surplus, and $5 million from a garage lease payment.
The MBTA expects to raise $88.3 million from the fare increases and service cuts—close to half of the projected budget deficit. This means that the public is being saddled with paying off debts to the banks and other predatory lenders that are not of their making.
While T officials earlier indicated that more than 500 jobs could be eliminated as a result of the cuts, the MBTA now says there will be 51 “headcount reductions” along with accompanying cuts to pensions. In addition to the service cuts, labor costs will also be reduced through implementing more Single Person Train Operations.
The budget avoids some of the more draconian service cuts threatened in earlier proposals, but the systemwide fair increases are steep and will pose particular hardship for students, seniors and the disabled. While T officials say that 3,900 out of 1.3 million daily customers will be affected by the service cuts, public transit advocates predict that 1 in 20 riders will be forced to abandon the system mainly due to the fare hikes.
In a brochure put out by T officials, they say that their takeaway from the series of public meetings was that “numerous individuals and groups commented to the MBTA that a fare increase similar to past increases of 25% would be preferable to the proposals.”
The public was presented with two proposals containing fare increases and draconian cuts to service—one proposing the elimination of 75 percent of bus routes. The “public comment” period was aimed at allowing people to let off steam and frightening them with the worst-case scenario, in an effort to present the final proposal as an improvement.
According to the adopted plan, single ride fares will rise from the current $1.25 to $1.50 on local buses, and from $1.70 to $2.00 for rapid transit. A monthly bus and subway pass will increase to $70 from $59. Commuter rail fares will rise by an average of 29 percent, while ferry rides will go up an average of 33 percent.
Fares on the RIDE, which serves the disabled, will double—rising to $4.00 from the present $2.00. A new “premium” fare of $5.00 is also being introduced for RIDE service outside that which is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Senior single rides will rise by 87 percent on buses, to $.75, and by 66 percent on rapid transit, to $1.00. Student single fares will rise from $.60 to $.75 on buses, and from $.85 to $1.00 for rapid transit.
Even with these substantial fare increases and service reductions, state transportation authorities and politicians predict there will be similar deficits in future years and the MBTA will come back for more.
Democratic Governor Deval Patrick commented on the latest proposal, “This solution is all about patches and plugs in addition to a middle-range fare increase, and that’s what it’s going to take to try to maintain most of the service for another year.”
To reduce the deficit, state legislators have floated proposals to raise the state gas and/or sales taxes, both regressive taxes that disproportionately affect the working class. There are also calls for the state to bail out the MBTA with taxpayers’ money.
Occupy Boston, which has played a vocal role in the MBTA hearings, held a rally on the State House steps the day the fare hikes and service cuts were announced. Occupy the MBTA, a working group of Occupy Boston, is staging a 10-day occupation in front of the State House, and several dozen people have been sleeping overnight on the State House steps.
According to occupyboston.org, the group states: “We’re demanding that our legislature save the T by April 14. No hikes, no cuts, no layoffs!” While pointing to the billions of dollars paid to bail out the banks, and demanding that “the T cancel its interest rate swaps with JPMorgan Chase, Deustche Bank, and UBS,” the group is appealing to the same big-business politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties that have supported the bank bailouts and subordination of public services, such as transit, to the financial elite.
The Socialist Equality Party intervened in Boston at the public hearings on transit calling for the repudiation of the billions in dollars of debt owed by the MBTA. An SEP leaflet stated, “The Socialist Equality Party insists that as an essential public service, the T should be financed through taxes placed upon the wealthy corporations who pay out billions each year in executive compensation.”
Phyllis Scherrer, the SEP’s vice-presidential candidate, issued a statement on public transportation in response to the attack on public transit taking place in cities across the country. It read in part: “As part of our program the SEP demands that all people must have access to safe and affordable public transportation. This can be accomplished by immediately launching an emergency public works program to provide employment for all.
“Jerry White and I are running in the 2012 elections because we say that a party of the working class must be built, one that is based on a socialist program in which the vast resources of society are used, not for the benefit of a tiny few but to meet social needs and improve the conditions of life for working people, the great majority of the population. This must include pouring tens of billions of dollars into rebuilding and extending public transportation.”