Death spiral in Worcester?
In Worcester, officials are worried that their transit agency may be in the midst of a death spiral.
With state funding trending downward the last four years, the Worcester Regional Transit Authority has had to make some very tough choices. In fiscal 2017, the transit agency cut service and raised fares. This year, the agency is facing a deficit of $900,000, and preparing to cut service again on some of its most popular bus routes. Not surprisingly, the combination of higher fares and lower service has led to a 13 percent decline in ridership during the first half of fiscal 2018.
“It’s a spiral downward,” said William Lehtola, the chairman of the transit authority’s advisory board. “Basically the WRTA will cease to exist in a few years if we continue this.”
“I would concur with that, yes,” said Jonathan Church, the WRTA administrator.
According to the Telegram & Gazette, the state’s regional transit authorities had expected their combined $80 million in state funding to rise steadily to $86 million by 2018. Instead, the agencies received a total of $82 million in both 2016 and 2017 and $80.4 million in fiscal 2018. Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed level-funding the regional transit authorities at $80.4 million in 2019. [CLARIFICATION: State transportation officials objected to this story’s characterization that regional transit authority funding was trending down over the last four years. They cited RTA funding from the state at $80 million in fiscal year 2015 and noted that the governor’s budget for fiscal 2019 is level funded at $80.4 million, a slight increase over 2015. The story, however, never mentioned fiscal 2015 funding and focused entirely on fiscal 2016 through fiscal 2019.]
James Aloisi, the former secretary of transportation who now serves on the board of TransitMatters, said what’s happening to the regional transit authorities is shameful because they serve some of the state’s most vulnerable residents and provide service in places that are typically not reachable except by car.
“Everyone in the Commonwealth who cares about sustainable mobility and social and regional equity should find this situation unacceptable,” he said.
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