A fare warning

Is the MBTA’s plan to raise fares running into signal problems?

The agency, now under full control of Gov. Charlie Baker through the the Fiscal and Management and Control Board he fought for last year, has teed up fare increase proposals  ranging from about 6 to 10 percent.

As was clear at a public hearing on Monday, the idea is not going over well with riders. Meanwhile, T4MA, a coalition heavy with transit advocates, environmental groups, and planning organizations, has spoken out against the increases, declaring that it is “disappointed and frustrated” by the proposal.

Today, it is Jim Stergios, executive director of the free-market oriented Pioneer Institute, who questions the idea of increasing fares in a Globe op-ed piece.

Stergios is all for the control board using its powers to bring needed reforms to the T. He says a major rethinking of The Ride, the T’s costly paratransit service for disabled and elderly riders, is in order. And he says the exploding costs of the Green Line extension underscore the need for management reforms as well.

But despite the T’s longstanding problems with annual operating budget deficits and enormous capital needs to address deferred maintenance, Stergios is decidedly less enthusiastic about the idea of turning to fare increases at a time when passengers are saddled with unreliable service.

“Fare increases should be linked to demonstrable service improvements,” he writes. “The customer must also come first when it comes to fare increases. The T cannot ask riders to pay more unless it offers better, more reliable service in return.”

It’s an important signal from the leader of a respected public policy think tank that Baker once ran, and it suggests that the fare increase proposal is meeting with doubt across the political spectrum.

Conspicuous in their silence on recent talk of fare increase has been a coalition of municipal and business leaders that formed last year to support Baker’s push for the control board. Fix Our T, which is made up of 15 mayors and more than 30 chambers of commerce and business organizations, issued a statement last July after the control board’s first meeting that called for removal of any cap on fares as part of the fix for the T. But the group has shown little enthusiasm for fare increases now that they have been put on the table.

Indeed, an interesting signal from its top leadership came last week, when Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association, was asked whether MBTA fares were equivalent to “fees,” which Baker vowed (along with taxes) not to raise.

“A fare is just a more specific type of fee. It’s the price you pay to ride something,” McAnneny told State House News Service.

No one argues with the fact that the T is in tough fiscal shape. But there seem to be lots of voices wondering whether the fare plan is fair play.

–MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

The Legislature will convene today for a Constitutional Convention (known colloquially as the Con-Con), with the millionaires’ tax on high earners the star attraction. Politico’s Lauren Dezenski runs down the 10 items on the calendar. The tax item is last on the agenda, though, and legislative leaders say it’s not clear they’ll get to it today.

A three-year-old Roxbury boy who died yesterday after being rushed to the hospital Sunday night with several “traumatic injuries” was under the supervision of the state’s troubled Department of Children and Families. (Boston Herald)

The state payroll saw a big bump last year in the number of employees earning more than $100,000 per year. (Boston Globe)

State Rep. Geoff Diehl of Whitman said a pornographic video sent out on his Twitter account was the result of someone hacking into his account while he was on vacation in the Caribbean last week. (The Enterprise)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

New Bedford city councilors are considering a proposal to allow advertising on public buildings. (Standard-Times)

Former Brockton mayor John Yunits has been hired as the new Barnstable County administrator. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Obama will visit a mosque in Baltimore today, his first visit to a mosque as present, in an attempt to counter anti-Muslim vitriol and rhetoric. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

The Democrats land in New Hampshire with Iowa’s virtual dead-heat suggesting Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could be in for a drawn-out battle. (Boston Globe) Fresh off his Iowa win, Ted Cruz looks to seize control, while Donald Trump needs to ensure the air doesn’t run out of his celebrity balloon next Tuesday. (Boston Globe)

Speaking of celebrity, one-time Cosmo centerfold Scott Brown throws in with Trump. (Boston Herald) David Bernstein speculates Brown may have ulterior motives for backing Trump: A job from the real estate mogul, either in the administration if he wins or in the private empire. (WGBH) Keller@Large says Brown’s endorsement may help the second-place Iowa finisher improve his position in New Hampshire. Or not.

Florida Airline, a regional airline in the Sunshine State, is giving 36 percent discounts on flights to their rewards club members in honor of native sons Sen. Marco Rubio’s and Jeb Bush’s finishes (3rd and 6th respectively, making it 36) in the Iowa caucuses. (Weekly Standard)

Sen. Rand Paul, we hardly knew ye. (Associated Press)

Former Senate aide Gerry Cassidy won the special election Democratic primary for the vacant state representative seat in Brockton, assuring him of the post with no opposition in the general election. (The Enterprise)

Former state representative Thomas Walsh, who last served more than 20 years ago, overwhelmingly won the Democratic primary for state rep in Peabody and will face off against Republican Stephanie Peach and independent candidate Christopher Gallagher in the March 1 special election. (The Item)

Fitchburg City Councilor Stephan Hay topped the special election Democratic primary to replace former representative Stephen DiNatale and will face off against fellow City Councilor Dean Tran, who ran as a write-in on the Republican ballot. (Telegram and Gazette)

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch, whose campaign account was already in the hole from his reelection bid in November, is facing another $10,000 debt after the Office of Campaign and Political Finance ordered him to give up that amount from illegal contributions he was not aware of receiving. OCPF ordered the money be donated to charity. (Patriot Ledger)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Massport is putting 23 acres of Boston waterfront land out to bid but is restricting acceptable uses to maritime-related business. (Boston Globe)

Officials have decided against moving forward, at least for now, with a plan to regulate lobster catches in an effort to save the declining New England stock. (Associated Press)

Charitable giving in 2015 grew for the fourth straight year but the increase slowed to just 1.6 percent, according to a new report. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

EDUCATION

Martha Coakley says she’s not a candidate to replace Margaret McKenna as president of Suffolk University as accrediting officials say they want some answers on the the controversy being stirred up by the board of trustees. (Boston Globe) The university’s faculty senate has an emergency meeting scheduled for this morning. (Boston Herald)

WBUR looks into discipline policies of Massachusetts schools that result in hundreds of kindergarteners and pre-kindergarteners being suspended each year.

The Sandwich school superintendent, who revamped the system, abruptly announced his resignation effective at the end of the year with two years left on his contract because, says a former selectman and friend, he felt “nitpicked” by the School Committee. (Cape Cod Times)

A group of black ministers and activists is calling on Boston school superintendent Tommy Chang to discipline or even fire Boston Latin School head master Lynne Mooney Teta, saying she ignored complaints from black students about the racial climate at the school. (Boston Herald)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Boston University researchers confirmed they found a high level of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — the disease linked to traumatic brain injury from repeated blows to the head — in the brain of legendary NFL quarterback Ken Stabler, who died last July. (New York Times)

The first case of sexually transmitted Zika virus has been confirmed in Texas, raising concerns that male travelers infected with the mosquito-borne disease could pass it on to pregnant women. (U.S. News & World Report)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a $15 million initiative aimed at increasing jobs in the solar energy and renewable heating fields. (The Sun)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Fleeing violence-prone El Salvador does not mean getting away from the bloody MS-13 street gang, a recent immigrant to Chelsea finds. (Boston Globe)