Baker, T board members at odds on revenue strategy
Tibbits-Nutt: ‘We’ve just been kind of kicking the can’
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER and several of his appointees to the MBTA oversight board appear to be at odds over whether a T fare increase should be accompanied by hikes in fees and charges on other forms of transportation.
The issue first surfaced on Monday at a meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, where director Brian Lang said he didn’t think a fare increase should take place in isolation. He said fares may need to go up, but that action should be accompanied by other revenue-raising measures, including higher fees on ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft, an increase in the gas tax, or congestion toll pricing. He said new revenues from these initiatives could be used to support the T while also providing an economic incentive for Massachusetts residents to use their cars less and public transit more.
“To talk about generating revenue for the T only from the T is completely wrong headed,” Lang said. “If you look at any of the systems from around the world that are world class, it’s all coordinated.”
Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the five-person board, sounded a similar tone at Monday’s meeting, but didn’t address specific types of new revenue. Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a third member of the control board, said on Wednesday at official opening ceremonies for the Blue Hill commuter rail station on the Fairmount Line that she was in sync with Lang.
Tibbits-Nutt said the state should consider hiking fees on ride-hailing apps, raising the gas tax, and exploring congestion pricing. “The political will has to be there to start diversifying this or you just continue putting all of this debt on to the T,” she said.
The comments of Lang and Tibbits-Nutt signal a shift at the control board, which since it was formed in the wake of the shutdown snowstorm of 2015 has focused primarily on getting the T back on its feet. The board has never really touched on the need for additional revenues or a broader transportation revenue strategy, largely because Baker, who appointed all the board members, has shown little or no interest in steering more money to the T.
Baker, who also attended the Fairmount Line event, indicated his stance hasn’t changed. He said raising fees on ride-hailing apps, hiking the gas tax, and implementing congestion pricing are issues that have come up in the legislative process in the past and are likely to surface again. But he indicated they are not priorities for him and shouldn’t be priorities for the control board.
“Right now people should be focused on the fares at the T. As we said when we released our future of transportation report, we are going to pursue a multistate conversation around a cap-and-invest program, which we plan to do. But those are the only things on our radar now,” he said.
The cap-and-invest program is being discussed by a group of northeast states that are interested in placing a price on the carbon contained in vehicle fuels, with the revenue from the carbon fees returning to the participating states.Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is openly talking about increasing transportation revenues. He has filed legislation on Beacon Hill to hike fees paid by ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft, which currently pay 20 cents a ride. He is also pushing legislation that would allow a city or a group of municipalities to band together to vote on whether to approve taxes on their residents to fund specific transportation projects.
Walsh said he has two concerns about the MBTA’s proposed fare hike. “One is seniors and one is younger people,” he said. “As long as people know where the money’s going and the investment is being made – I think that has to be transparent. Whenever we raise any of our fees in the city, we pretty much let people know exactly where the money is going and what we’re going to use it for. And I think in this particular case there has to be a little more conversation about where the money’s going to go and how it’s going to improve the experience of the riders of the MBTA.”