Is consensus emerging on what MBTA needs?
Michelle Wu and Paul Regan took very different positions on the MBTA fare increase, but they both agree on the big picture needs of the transit authority.
Regan, the executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, said on CommonWealth’s Codcast that the $29 million derived from the fare increase approved by the Fiscal and Management Control Board last Monday is needed just to cover a small wage increase for union employees, not to mention rising costs for commuter rail, paratransit service, and other operations. “They’ve spent the entire fare increase already,” he said.
Wu, the Boston city councilor, presented a petition to the control board calling for no fare hike, free passes for students and seniors, and selective bus routes operated fare-free. Wu said it made no sense to raise fares and lose riders at a time when congestion is pervasive and climate change is looming.
“When we focus on merely the budget and the numbers in front of us year after year, it’s easier to be stuck in a conversation about do we do a 6 percent fare hike or a 3 percent one, or can we exempt this or that group, rather than saying we need to get to a fully acceptable transit system and what do we do to get there?” Wu said.
Wu, who has separately raised the idea of doing away with MBTA fares entirely, said she thought there was a “sliver of chance” the board might take a stand last week and say no to a fare increase. But she said her goal in pushing her proposals was to reset the conversation. “It’s important that we’re talking about the right goal ultimately, even if that goal won’t happen tomorrow. Even if it won’t happen next year. Even if it takes 50 years from now, which is the time scale that we’re talking about for a lot of this climate planning,” she said.
“It feels like we’re in a different place and a different energy now than before this last public process,” Wu said. “Now we have demonstrated such momentum and such public attention on the need to get to a place where we’re talking about the big picture fixes for the system.”
Regan, who has been attending T oversight board meetings for more than a decade, said last Monday’s meeting was very different from the others. “This meeting was the members of the FMCB getting up on their hind legs and saying enough,” he said. “What you heard and what the people in the audience heard was a lack of conviction that anybody can see the progress that they’re making, that it’s invisible to the typical rider.”
Of the three revenue options mentioned by control board members, Regan said he favors an increase in the gas tax with a large chunk of the revenue going to the T. Wu likes all three revenue options, but she believes a portion of the new money has to go for improving public transit, including expensive proposals such as regional rail and electrification of the system.
By the end of the Codcast, Wu and Regan seemed to be in general agreement. They agreed the T needed more revenue now (Wu felt the new revenue should not come from riders) and they agreed the T needs more revenue to achieve its long-term goals. Regan said he agrees with Wu that public officials need to look beyond the existing budget debate, asking where the T should be five years from now.
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