Bay State commuters who rely on the MBTA will be slapped with an average 23 percent fare hike under a budget proposal that state transportation officials plan to unveil Wednesday morning.
“The proposal we’re announcing today is weighted more to fare increases and much less to service cuts,” Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said in a phone interview, attributing the decision to public feedback gathered by the MBTA over the last three months.
Under the proposal, which could be ratified as early as next week by the board of the state Department of Transportation, subway fares would climb to $2 from $1.70 – a 17 percent increase – and the cost of a bus ride will climb to $1.50 from $1.25, a 25 percent spike. Monthly passes would climb to $70 from $59. South Shore ferry riders would see a 35 percent fare increase, essentially wiping out any subsidy for service, Davey said.
The cost of a trip for most disabled commuters who depend on the T’s RIDE service would go to $4 from $2, and disabled riders living outside the MBTA’s designated service zones would pay as much as $5 for a ride.
The proposal packs less of a punch than earlier scenarios unveiled by the MBTA, in part because the T is counting on lawmakers to send an additional $51 million its way from a trust fund that contains vehicle inspection fees. Davey said that fund is expected to contain a surplus next fiscal year.
“I think the Legislature is certainly open to that,” he said.
If the Legislature agrees, those funds would close nearly a third of the MBTA’s estimated $159 million budget gap. Davey said the agency is also counting on another $9 million from legislative changes to the MBTA’s tort liability and an influx of Medicaid dollars to help disabled riders.
Davey briefed legislators and staff at the State House on Wednesday morning on the agency’s latest proposal. After the meeting, Davey said the meeting was “very good.”
“I think folks understand the issues,” he said.
Rep. David Linsky, a Natick Democrat, told the News Service that the MBTA had been “very creative” in crafting its proposal.
“We still need a long-term solution,” he said. “This is merely a one-year fix.”
Under the proposal, four bus routes would be eliminated: the 48, which serves Jamaica Plain; the 355, which runs from Boston to Burlington; the 500, which runs from downtown Boston to Newton; and the 710, which runs from North Medford through Malden. Another 14 bus routes, Davey said, would see schedules pared back or weekend service eliminated.
Weekend service on the E Line subway would be eliminated from Brigham Circle to Heath Street, and ferry service from Quincy to Boston would be eliminated on weekends as well.
The plan would also shrink the discount seniors and students receive for bus and subway service; each group would pay 75 cents for a bus ride and $1 for a subway ride. Students would also see monthly five-day passes climb to $25 from $20, although they’d also receive an option for a full monthly pass for $28.
Asked about suggestions to tier subway and bus fares based on peak commuting hours or trip distance, Davey said transportation officials had learned that the Charlie Card system lacks the technological capacity for those changes but could be upgraded to do so within 12 to 15 months.
“So we have ordered our vendor to begin that process,” he said.
The proposal lacks any mention of the proposed used of excess snow and ice funds that Gov. Deval Patrick and others have discussed publicly in recent weeks. It also forgoes transferring some transit services to Massport, another solution eyed by public officials and transit system advocates.
MBTA officials have argued that stagnant sales taxes, a crushing debt burden and soaring costs of energy and transportation for disabled riders had blown a $159 million hole in their budget, necessitating the fare hike and service cut plans. Earlier scenarios unveiled by the T would have hiked fares between 35 percent and 43 percent and imposed deep service cuts that some riders feared would eliminate their only route to work, doctor appointments or their families.
The proposal may prompt lawmakers to begin the process of crafting legislative proposals that might further reduce the proposed fare hikes, as well as long-term solutions to the state’s transportation woes.
Even if the T’s budget is solved, the state’s larger transportation system requires heavy annual borrowing to stay in balance, and a 2007 report estimated that the system is underfunded by $1 billion a year.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the News Service last week that lawmakers will look to a longer-term transportation finance restructuring at the outset of the 2013-2014 legislative session.
“Probably when we come back as soon as January it's got to be one of the probably the first bill that we're going to have to address in terms of how we're going to address all the transportation issues in the Commonwealth,” he told the News Service last week.
While initial T proposals called for fare hikes of between 35 and 43 percent, DeLeo said he hoped that fare hikes would ultimately be limited to a “more reasonable level” and that the most difficult service cuts contemplated would not be put into effect.
Asked if his no-new-taxes pledge that he's applied to the fiscal 2013 budget would apply to a comprehensive transportation financing bill, DeLeo said, “That would be a non-budgetary situation. My goal would be to see the T resolve the issues on their own.”
DeLeo highlighted potential MBTA savings initiatives involving Massport and reducing costs associated with transportation for disabled individuals as opportunities worth pursuing.
Regarding taxes and transportation, he added, “Any discussions in terms of further taxes I want to hold in abeyance until we see what their plan is both short-term and long-term.”
Davey plans an 11:30 a.m. press conference at the State Transportation Building to discuss the T’s plans.
Michael Norton contributed reporting.