T board members clarify fare, service votes

One proposal grew out of frustration with Legislature

SOME MEMBERS of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board on Wednesday sought to clarify a couple of controversial votes on fares and short-term service levels that they took at the end of a lengthy meeting earlier this week.

Both votes were on amendments to a sweeping proposal to reduce service levels at the T – but at a much-reduced level compared to what the transit authority originally recommended in November.

The first amendment, filed by Brian Lang and approved on a 3-2 vote, barred any fare increases for subway and bus riders until passenger levels and service hours return to pre-COVID levels.

The second amendment, filed by Monica Tibbits-Nutt and approved 5-0, said the board will decide by March 15 whether additional service is needed before July 1 and allocate the resources for that service, if feasible.

The Lang amendment grew out of his frustration with lawmakers who continually press the board not to raise fares or cut service but then do nothing to provide the MBTA with additional resources.

“If that’s really your opinion, why are you telling us?” Lang asked on Monday, noting that the control board only manages the funds it is given. “Why don’t you urge your colleagues on Beacon Hill to do something about this and come up with a sustainable fiscal plan so we don’t have to make cuts or raise fares?”

Lang said he personally supports lowering fares or doing away with them entirely. It’s unclear whether Lang’s amendment has real clout or whether it’s largely symbolic because it attempts to restrict the actions of whatever board is appointed to succeed the Fiscal and Management Control Board when it sunsets in July.

Tibbits-Nutt and Joe Aiello, the vice chair and chair of the control board, respectively, supported Lang’s amendment and Chrystal Kornegay and Tim Sullivan opposed it.

Aiello said on Wednesday that the amendment, while focused on the issue of fares, raised a longer-term issue of concern for the MBTA. As COVID-19 recedes, he said, there could very well be a shift in ridership, as people of lesser means continue to take the T while those with higher incomes work from home or drive their cars to work. In that type of environment, he said, a T fare hike becomes very regressive.

“Brian was thinking very ahead of everyone else on the board, well certainly way ahead of me. He was thinking about environmental justice. He may not have used the right forum – a vote on service levels – but his mind and his heart were absolutely in the right place,” Aiello said.

In debate over a second Lang amendment, which was eventually withdrawn, Kornegay indicated she might be supportive of Lang’s approach of using amendments to send a message to Beacon Hill if his end goal was creating fares tied to income levels.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack didn’t take a stand on the Lang amendment, but pointed out that the T receives enormous resources from the state — $2 in taxpayer funds for every $1 in fares in normal times and $10 in taxpayer funds for every $1 in fares during the pandemic, which has caused ridership to plummet.

Gov. Charlie Baker was asked about the vote at a Wednesday press conference at the State House and he chose to answer by listing pieces of legislation that he would like to see enacted before the end of the session.

The Tibbits-Nutt amendment set a March 15 date for the board to review the adequacy of service levels and determine whether they need to be adjusted at that time. The amendment ran into resistance from Pollack, who noted March would probably be too late to make any significant change in service levels before June given the long lead times for doing so at the T.

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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.

But other T members said that was the point of the amendment, to signal to T staff that they need to work with unions and vendors to create as much flexibility as possible to respond to changes in service demand as quickly as possible. One possibility would be to offer unions greater job security in return for more flexibility in work assignments.

The final vote on the T’s new overall service levels was 3-2. Tibbits-Nut, in a lengthy post on Twitter, said the 3-2 vote reflected opposition to the Lang amendment, which was included as part of the service package. She said all five members of the control board supported the package of new service levels.