T notes: 7% increase in spending approved
MBTA may buy offshore wind power in future
THE MBTA OVERSIGHT board kept its foot on the gas Thursday, unanimously approving a 7 percent increase in spending for fiscal 2021 using $710 million in federal aid to offset a sharp downturn in fare revenue.
The $2.29 billion budget plan include no fare hikes, one key fare decrease, and the addition of 151 new safety personnel. Officials said the T could add another 311 employees to work on several key initiatives if the Legislature approves legislation that would allow the T to pay employees working on capital projects with money raised by issuing bonds.
The Fiscal and Management Control Board may be just putting off hard decisions until fiscal 2022, when the T will be confronted with a much bigger spending base but no guarantee of additional federal money to plug any revenue shortfalls.
The T’s budget assumes fare revenue will drag along at 10 percent of pre-COVID estimates for the rest of this year before slowly starting to rise between January and June of next year, hitting 60 percent of pre-COVID estimates by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2021.
The control board separately approved the elimination of the fare differential between CharlieCards and paper Charlie tickets, which means the cost of a subway or bus ride using cash or a Charlie ticket will be the same as with a Charlie Card. Currently, the Charlie ticket or cash price is 50 cents more for subway rides and 30 cents more for bus rides.
Free transfers to and from the Fairmount commuter rail line will also be allowed at some point in the coming fiscal year, which will allow someone to take a bus to the Fairmount Line and not have to pay to board the train. Similarly, someone taking the train to South Station will be able to transfer for free on to the subway system.
MBTA may procure offshore wind power
The MBTA, already the largest consumer of electricity in the state, is preparing to buy a lot more power in the future as it opens the Green Line extension and shifts to electric buses and commuter rail trains.
Andrew Brennan, the T’s director of environmental affairs, said the agency is looking for ways to purchase electricity more cheaply (this year’s bill is expected to total $42 million) and buy more renewable energy. One option under consideration, Brennan said, is to procure electricity directly from offshore wind producers.
The need for electricity is growing rapidly. At the Quincy bus garage, the T currently uses about 2 megawatts of electricity each year. With the expected purchase of 130 electric buses, Brennan said the garage’s electricity needs will rise to 15 to 18 megawatts.
COVID-19 delays means-tested fares
Heffernan said a product manager has been hired to explore the development of means-tested fares and she said the agency is soliciting input from community-based organizations who may be interested in partnering with the T in running such a fare program.