Rosenberg warns T on fare hike
Says legislative OK needed for more than 5% increase
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
WITH MBTA FARE HIKES on the table to address a budget gap and repair backlog at the public transit system, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said Monday that any increases above 5 percent would have to win legislative approval.
The MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board is exploring the possibility of raising fares next year, working under an interpretation of a 2013 law that would allow for as much as a 10 percent increase.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack has said the law caps fare hikes at 5 percent annually every two years, while senators involved in writing the law say it was meant to place the cap at a total of 5 percent for the two-year period.
Rosenberg backed the 5 percent interpretation on Monday, pointing to what he described as confusing language that “masks the legislative intent.”
“Right now, the control board has the responsibility to make a determination whether there will be an increase in calendar year ’16 and whether that increase will be up to 5 percent or not,” the Amherst Democrat said in an interview with WCAP 980 AM radio host Mara Dolan. “The Senate believes that we already have reached the cap for the two-year period, and if they want to go beyond that, they have to come to the Legislature and discuss it.”
The 2013 law limiting fare increases says the MBTA “shall not increase fares at intervals of less than 24 months or at an annual rate greater than 5 per cent.” An ongoing dispute has centered on whether the 5 percent limit is for an increase over one year or two.
“Somebody inserted — and nobody can figure out at this point who did — a piece of confusing language that left the possibility that someone could have interpreted it as up to 5 percent per year,” Rosenberg said. “We are clear from the legislative intent and the record that it was up to five over two years. If that needs to be changed, then somebody has to come to the Legislature and propose that.”
Lawmakers involved in drafting the bill’s final version differ on where the cap was meant to fall.
“In my view the language we passed in 2013 does permit as much as a 10 percent increase consisting of 5 percent year one, 5 percent year two,” Rep. Bill Straus, the House chairman of the Transportation Committee, said earlier this month.
The committee’s Senate chair, Sen. Thomas McGee, has said 5 percent total was the intended maximum hike.
The most recent T fare hike came in 2014, with fares raised by an average of 5 percent.
The transit authority is facing a $242 million operating budget gap for the 2017 fiscal year, and the cost of repairing all MBTA equipment is estimated at $7 billion.
The T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board is meeting Monday to review internal efforts to reduce costs, increase revenue and improve the experience for customers.
Rosenberg has previously said he would be open to revisiting the fare cap, but that the MBTA faces broader financial issues.
“The needs of the T and our public transit systems and our road and bridge program are so significant that focusing on the size of the fare increase is really focusing on the wrong question,” he told reporters earlier this month.