T to raise fares, trim Green Line

The MBTA plans an overall 23 percent fare increase and will eliminate weekend Green Line streetcar service between Brigham Circle and Heath Street, according to a budget document released March 28 following months of controversy about the T’s sorry financial state.

The T would continue to subsidize the private Mission LINK shuttle bus that serves the steep, winding roads of Parker Hill, but only at half the current funding level.

Local leaders who protested the T service cuts in recent public meetings expressed concern about the final plan to the Gazette this week.

“I’m disappointed. We’re losing crucial services in our district,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, noting that Mission Hill is among the neighborhoods most impacted by the cuts. “I’m happy there’s something left for the LINK, but it runs on a shoestring budget.”

Pat Flaherty, of Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services noted that she has been involved for years in battling previous T attempts to kill Green Line streetcar service to Heath Street. The line serves many seniors and people with disabilities, as well as people who work or use such S. Huntington Avenue institutions as the Veterans Affairs hospital, she said.

“While the MBTA has responded to the need to continue service on the weekend for employees to the LMA, students at the colleges and universities, and guests to the [Museum of Fine Arts],” Flaherty wrote in an email to the Gazette, “I think this proposal neglects the need for weekend service for the residents at Mission Park, the Back of the Hill Apartments and others living between Heath Street and Brigham Circle.”

Originally facing a $185 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2013, the MBTA was able to hack that down to an $84 million gap with one-time savings and revenue, according to the budget document. That means its fare boost can be less drastic. Original plans called for halting Green Line service entirely on the weekends.

The MBTA is still facing a whopping $5 billion debt that will cause more budget gaps for years to come unless some type of long-term solution is created.

“T finances are a profound mess,” Sánchez said. But, asked if state legislators have had progress on discussing specific solutions, he said, “No. Not at all.”

One idea is raising the state gasoline tax and directing the proceeds to various regional transit authorities, including the MBTA. But it is unclear if that would raise enough revenue, Sánchez said. A proposal to shift a chunk of T debt to the general state accounts was a no-go, he added.

“I support us looking at all broad-based revenues…including [raising] the income tax,” Sánchez said. He added that State House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a recent budget meeting that the House will work on crafting some type of T budget solution within the next several months, before the current term ends.

Fare boosts and service cuts were widely criticized by thousands of people in public meetings, including one in January at Roxbury Community College.

MBTA officials were slated to formally submit the budget proposal to the MBTA board on April 4, after the Gazette’s deadline. The budget document is available online at mbta.com.

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