MBTA fare hike: too bad, so sad

When it comes to the MBTA, squeaky wheels don’t get the grease. The Boston Globe reports that the MassDOT board of directors plans to increase fares Wednesday despite reams of complaints collected from commuters about the hike.

Though the MBTA is obligated to hold public meetings to hear T riders out, the system’s mammoth debt issues mean the board will likely vote the hike through nonetheless.

Boston.com’s attempt to stoke up outrage about the increase does not change the facts: The MBTA will cycle through public meetings, rider protests, and fare increases for the foreseeable future.


The reasons for the hikes are simple but largely underappreciated by the riding public. Way back in the sands of time — that is, about one year ago — Massachusetts lawmakers mandated that the MBTA had to do more to stave off budget shortfalls that required millions in past Beacon Hill bailouts.

They devised this response to the transit system’s woes as part of the 2013 transportation finance package: “The authority shall not increase fares at intervals of less than 24 months or at an annual rate greater than 5 per cent.”

Unwilling to drum up significant revenues elsewhere, legislators decided the burden must pass to riders in the form of small, predictable fare increases. Small increases, so the reasoning goes, are better than less frequent but hefty hikes.

As transportation officials noted in 2012, “MassDOT could enact a series of modest, regular increases to transportation fares, fees, and tolls to keep pace with the cost of inflation. MBTA fares could increase 5% every two years beginning in FY 2015…”

Which is exactly what the MBTA is doing.

MBTA officials go to great pains to point out that the authority has little choice in the matter, publishing loads of data explaining why fares have to go up.

MBTA rider complaints about fare increases have never had much of an effect. In 2012, fares jumped 23 percent in order to plug a $160 million deficit despite a tremendous public outcry.

Students and people who rely on The Ride, the T’s paratransit service, have been the only groups that have succeeded in persuading the MBTA to reduce their fares, and only then by a modest amount.

T riders should go into future public meetings knowing that unless their elected representatives on Beacon Hill find some significant, new, untapped source of revenue that does not evoke howls of protest, they can count on the MBTA to raise fares. The next fare increase, likely coming for fiscal 2017, isn’t that far off. But at least commuters will be closer to having some new Green Line cars to ride on.



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