Baker vetoes key policy initiatives in transportation bond bill
New Uber, Lyft fees and Spilka toll restriction scrapped
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER signed the Legislature’s transportation bond bill into law on Friday, but used his line-item veto to remove proposals raising fees on Uber and Lyft rides, establishing means-tested fares on public transit, and an initiative pushed by Senate President Karen Spilka that would prohibit increases in Turnpike tolls to help pay for the Allston I-90 interchange project.
The $16 billion bond bill authorizes the state to borrow money to finance all sorts of ongoing transportation projects, including bridge repairs, road improvements, and public transit initiatives such as the Green Line extension and South Coast Rail. The bill passed by the Legislature in the wee hours of January 6 also contained a number of new policy initiatives that Baker decided to scrap. Because the Legislature that passed the bill is no longer in session, the governor’s vetoes cannot be overridden.
One key policy initiative in the bill called for replacing the current 20-cent fee on Uber and Lyft rides with a 40-cent fee on shared rides and a $1.20 fee on non-shared rides. The proposal also added a $1 fee on rides in luxury vehicles and a special 20-cent transit fee on all rides originating and ending in 14 communities in the Greater Boston area. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council estimated the fees would raise upwards of $56 million at current traffic levels.
Baker said the proposal was premature. “This proposal would create a complicated fee structure that is based on pre-pandemic assumptions,” he said in a letter to the Legislature. “Before instituting fees that are aimed at incentivizing certain travel behaviors, we need to understand what ridership and congestion patterns are going to look like after the pandemic.”
“More study is needed to understand how transit authorities can implement fare systems that depend on gathering information about riders’ incomes and to understand what the revenue loss would be and how that revenue would be replaced,” Baker said. “No means-tested fares can be implemented until the MBTA and RTAs have a financially sustainable plan in place to replace the lost revenue.”
The Spilka provision, which would bar toll increases to pay for the roughly $1 billion Allston project, was tacked on to a much larger section directing how mitigation for the disruptive project should be handled. In his letter, Baker did not address the toll issue but said the section of the bill he was excising contained conditions that could not be met. He said he would work with the Legislature to address concerns raised by the section.
Baker also vetoed a provision directing that all revenue from the governor’s transportation climate initiative, which places a price on the carbon contained in vehicle fuels, should go into the state’s Commonwealth Transportation Fund. Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, the House’s point person on transportation, inserted the provision to clarify where the revenues should go.
Straus has said he believes the state constitution requires the revenues to go into the transportation fund. Baker, who has said half of the money would go to public transit, disagreed. “I believe it is more appropriate for a significant portion of this funding to be available for more flexible emissions reduction and equity investments,” he said.
Baker also vetoed a provision establishing a congestion pricing commission, saying much more needs to be understood about the future of work before congestion pricing can be considered.Straus and his Senate counterpart, Joseph Boncore of Winthrop, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Transportation advocates panned the governor’s vetoes, particularly his veto.of new Uber and Lyft fees and his dismantling of the proposal for means-tested fares. “Many of the governor’s vetoes are counter to his own proposals and are inconsistent with recommendations from the 2018 Commission on the Future of Transportation,” said Rick Dimino, president and CEO of the business group A Better City.