MBTA preparing to take up fare hikes

Any increase in rates would probably take effect in July

THE MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board plans to discuss fare proposals at its meeting on Monday afternoon, beginning what can be a contentious process depending on the scale of the changes.

The control board’s agenda for Monday lists “fare proposals” under a discussion of the budget for fiscal 2020, which begins July 1.

Paul Regan, the executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, said on Friday afternoon that he has been unsuccessful so far in learning what the T is planning for fare hikes. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo did not respond to an email asking how many fare proposals would be presented at the meeting.

The Baker administration has raised T fares exactly once, in 2016, when the control board increased fares an average of 9.3 percent. Those changes went into effect July 1, months after the board vote on them, which is typical.

Under a state law limiting the frequency and size of fare increases, which was tweaked in 2016, fares cannot be raised more than 7 percent in a two-year period.

The MBTA put off any discussion of fare increases last year, deciding instead to take them up this year.

The 2016 fare hikes caused an uproar, as did the even larger fare hikes of 2012, but a more minor fare increase in 2014 passed without much notice.

The MBTA operates subways, buses, commuter rail, and ferries, and fares vary for all of them. T staff often gives the control board a series of options for raising fares by varying amounts. With a CharlieCard, the current cost of a subway ride is $2.25, while a bus ride costs $1.70.

Fare hikes represent a major policy choice for the MBTA. Raising prices can diminish ridership, which is down on the subways and buses and up on the commuter rail. Increases can also strain the finances of low-income travelers who rely on the T. Some argue fares should be held steady, but Baker administration officials in the past have argued that regular, relatively small increases in fares are the best approach.

Regan said the system needs more revenue. “It’s a delicate balance,” he said.