T seeks to boost fares, cut service

The MBTA is seeking to plug a budget hole by raising fares and cutting service—including weekend E Line subway/streetcar trips and the entire Mission Hill LINK bus program.

A meeting about the already controversial proposal is set for Jan. 19 at Roxbury Community College. [See What’s Up listing.]

The MBTA’s own proposal says that fare hikes up to 43 percent and service cuts would “result in worse overall access to jobs, healthcare and educational opportunities.” But state law requires the MBTA to balance its budget, which has a $161 million gap that has to be filled by July 1, the beginning of fiscal year 2013.

Unless state legislators fill the hole with funds from somewhere else—as they did in 2009—the MBTA has no other choices, it says.

Local leaders, including state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, are urging residents to attend the meeting and speak out about the plan.

“That’s how we stopped [E Line cuts] before,” said Arthur Craffey, a political organizer of seniors, including residents of the Back of the Hill Apartments.

While the MBTA is presenting its proposal as necessary, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said that “public opinion will play a critical role in this process.”

The MBTA is proposing two plans, or “scenarios,” that have different combinations of fare hikes and service cuts. The MBTA cannot only raise fares or only cut service, because the results would be too extreme and scare away riders, the MBTA said. The proposal already would cause sharp losses in ridership.

Scenario 1 has a 43 percent fare hike. That would make a subway ride $2.40 and a bus ride $1.75. Scenario 2 has a 35 percent fare hike: $2.25 for the subway and $1.50 for the bus. It would be the MBTA’s first fare hike since 2007.

Both scenarios make the same major cuts in Mission Hill. No more weekend service on the Green Line E branch, which runs on Huntington and S. Huntington avenues. And no more LINK bus, a neighborhood shuttle that has served seniors and others for more than 30 years. The LINK is privately run but heavily subsidized by the MBTA.

Both scenarios also cut weekend service on all commuter rail lines, including those that stop at the Ruggles T Station. And Scenario 2 would kill the Route 45 bus that runs between Ruggles and the Franklin Park Zoo, with a stop at the Roxbury Crossing T Station.

The MBTA is also proposing high fare increases—up to 500 percent—for its RIDE program, which provides door-to-door vehicle rides for registered people with disabilities. Savings would come by pricing some people out of that service, according to an MBTA report.

All other local rail and bus lines would be untouched. Bus stop improvements for the heavily used 39 and 66 routes are still on schedule for construction this year, according to Pesaturo.

Overall, the proposal focuses service cuts on bus routes. The E Line is one of only two Boston rail lines facing cuts, with the other being Mattapan’s streetcar. Service cuts are focused on routes with a higher per-rider cost, according to the MBTA.

The MBTA is projected to have annual budget deficits, getting higher as the years pass, through fiscal year 2016, according to Pesaturo. But it is too soon to say whether more fare hikes or service cuts will be proposed next year, he said. This year’s budget fix will have an impact on that decision, he said.

For more information on the plan, see mbta.com. Written comments are being accepted at [email protected] or Fare Proposal, 10 Park Plaze, Suite 3910, Boston, MA 02116.

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