Baker, Walsh at odds on T funding
Determining the impact Uber and Lyft
Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh may be good friends, but they don’t see eye to eye on the MBTA.
Walsh said on CommonWealth’s Codcast this week that the T needs additional revenues, and he suggested a good place to start is with a bigger assessment on the ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft. Right now the apps pay a fee of 20 cents per ride, with 10 cents going to the municipality where the ride originates and the rest split evenly between the taxi industry and state transportation agencies.
Certainly a strong case can be made that the ride-hailing apps are contributing to congestion in Greater Boston, and that higher fees on them might be warranted for their use of the roads. State data released at the start of May indicated Uber and Lyft provided 64.8 million trips in Massachusetts during 2017, with more than two-thirds of them originating in Boston and Cambridge.
At a meeting of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday, several members raised concerns about the congestion being caused by ride-hailing apps and the impact they are having on bus ridership. The number of bus riders is down about 6 percent over the last three years.
Steve Poftak said the ride-hailing apps are dampening bus ridership, but he didn’t think they would be around for the long haul give that their investors are incurring heavy losses subsidizing the fares. “I don’t think it’s a sustainable business model,” he said.
But Baker’s secretary of transportation, Stephanie Pollack, said she wasn’t convinced the ride-hailing apps were the cause of all the problems. She cited a study done by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies which laid the blame for lower bus ridership at the feet of poor people, not the ride-hailing apps.The study indicated car ownership is increasing fairly dramatically, particularly among low-income, foreign-born residents. The study suggested bus ridership is going down in California because the people most likely to ride buses are opting for their own personal vehicles instead. Of course, driving your own vehicle instead of riding on a bus increases congestion.
Determining the impact Uber and Lyft are having on congestion and public transit in Massachusetts is a huge issue, but the Baker administration so far has shown little inclination to push for better data, let alone new revenues. Walsh said he and the governor have a lot in common, but not, apparently, on this issue.