T notes: Budget boosts RTA funding 10%
Seeks plan for electrifying Providence, Fairmount commuter rail lines
THE SENATE WAYS AND MEANS BUDGET proposal for the coming fiscal year would give a 10 percent increase in funding to the state’s 15 regional transit authorities, which provide bus service to residents outside the MBTA service area.
The budget plan would provide $88 million in funding, with $84 million allocated among the authorities using an existing formula and the remaining $4 million parceled out through a process run by the state Department of Transportation.
The Department of Transportation process requires the state agency and any regional transit authority seeking a portion of the $4 million to sign a memorandum of understanding that incorporates “appropriate ridership, customer service, asset management, and financial performance indicators and best practices to ensure that the authority makes data-driven decisions with respect to its operation including, but not limited to, service and asset management.”
If the full Senate approves the Ways and Means proposal, the measure would still need approval from the House and Gov. Charlie Baker. The House included $82 million for regional transit authorities in its budget, while the governor proposed level funding the authorities at $80 million. State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said recently that more money was not the answer to the problems the regional transit authorities are facing. She said they needed to seek smaller, regular fare hikes and improve their operations.
Senate President Harriette Chandler of Worcester, who has made more funding for regional transit authorities a priority, said increased investment is necessary. “We must move away from regressive funding and policies that trap RTAs in death spirals of reduced service and higher fares,” she said.
Officials at the Worcester Regional Transit Authority, which some say is facing a death spiral, could not be reached for comment.
Commuter rail electrification study sought
The Senate Ways and Means budget proposal also directs the Baker administration to develop a plan to fully electrify the Providence and Fairmount commuter rail lines and build high-level platforms at each station on the lines.
The proposal calls for the plan to envision a start date of September 30, 2022, for fully electric service. The plan itself would have to be finished by March 1, 2019.
Transit advocates are pushing higher platforms and electrified trains to speed up service. Higher platforms mean passengers could board trains directly rather than making their way up steep steps. Electrified trains are capable of reaching higher speeds much faster than diesel locomotives.
Ari Ofsevit and Jim Aloisi of TransitMatters outlined an electrification proposal for the Providence Line in a recent article in CommonWealth. They predicted full electrification (the line, which is used by Amtrak, is mostly electrified now but the state’s trains aren’t) and higher platforms would cut travel times between Providence and Boston to 45 minutes, a reduction of 20 to 24 minutes. They also said electrification would allow half as many trains to provide the same level of service.
MBTA officials said they needed time to study the proposal. TransitMatters issued a statement saying it was grateful “the Senate has taken this important step forward toward transitioning from an antiquated and failing commuter rail system to a modern regional rail system.”