Is consensus emerging on what MBTA needs?

Wu, Regan at odds on fare hike, but not on big picture

MICHELLE WU AND PAUL REGAN took very different positions on the MBTA fare increase, but they both agree on the big picture needs of the transit authority.

Regan, the executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, said on CommonWealth’s Codcast that the $29 million derived from the fare increase approved by the Fiscal and Management Control Board last Monday is needed just to cover a small wage increase for union employees, not to mention rising costs for commuter rail, paratransit service, and other operations. “They’ve spent the entire fare increase already,” he said.

Wu, the Boston city councilor, presented a petition to the control board calling for no fare hike, free passes for students and seniors, and selective bus routes operated fare-free. Wu said it made no sense to raise fares and lose riders at a time when congestion is pervasive and climate change is looming.

“When we focus on merely the budget and the numbers in front of us year after year, it’s easier to be stuck in a conversation about do we do a 6 percent fare hike or a 3 percent one, or can we exempt this or that group, rather than saying we need to get to a fully acceptable transit system and what do we do to get there?” Wu said.

Wu, who has separately raised the idea of doing away with MBTA fares entirely, said she thought there was a “sliver of chance” the board might take a stand last week and say no to a fare increase. But she said her goal in pushing her proposals was to reset the conversation. “It’s important that we’re talking about the right goal ultimately, even if that goal won’t happen tomorrow. Even if it won’t happen next year. Even if it takes 50 years from now, which is the time scale that we’re talking about for a lot of this climate planning,” she said.

Both Wu and Regan said it seemed like last Monday’s meeting of the control board was a pivotal one. Board members expressed frustration about the pace of improvement at the T and agreed to develop some sort of statement about the need for the Legislature to raise additional transportation revenues. The revenue options board members cited were raising the fees paid by ride-hailing apps, hiking the gas tax, and imposing congestion fees. All of those options are opposed by Gov. Charlie Baker, who appointed the control board members.

“It feels like we’re in a different place and a different energy now than before this last public process,” Wu said. “Now we have demonstrated such momentum and such public attention on the need to get to a place where we’re talking about the big picture fixes for the system.”

Regan, who has been attending T oversight board meetings for more than a decade, said last Monday’s meeting was very different from the others. “This meeting was the members of the FMCB getting up on their hind legs and saying enough,” he said. “What you heard and what the people in the audience heard was a lack of conviction that anybody can see the progress that they’re making, that it’s invisible to the typical rider.”

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Of the three revenue options mentioned by control board members, Regan said he favors an increase in the gas tax with a large chunk of the revenue going to the T. Wu likes all three revenue options, but she believes a portion of the new money has to go for improving public transit, including expensive proposals such as regional rail and electrification of the system.

By the end of the Codcast, Wu and Regan seemed to be in general agreement. They agreed the T needed more revenue now (Wu felt the new revenue should not come from riders) and they agreed the T needs more revenue to achieve its long-term goals. Regan said he agrees with Wu that public officials need to look beyond the existing budget debate, asking where the T should be five years from now.