T notes: Compromise on income-based fares
Budget for FY22 has some twists
THE MBTA’S Fiscal and Management Control Board voted unanimously on Monday to direct the transit authority’s staff to develop two options for testing income-based fares, leaving the decision on whether to proceed with those pilot projects in 2022 in the hands of a future oversight board.
With the control board scheduled to go out of existence at the end of the month and no replacement board yet in place, the vote was a carefully crafted compromise designed to satisfy those on the board who want to implement so-called means-tested fares and those wary of saddling a future board with the cost of such a program. Joe Aiello, the board chair, crafted the compromise.
The proposal requires T staff to present the future oversight board with two options for testing income-based fares in October – one using a state agency for determining income eligibility and one using a community-based organization. The board could then decide whether to proceed with one of the options using T funds or ask the governor and Legislature to pony up the money. Board officials said the program, if funded, could start in the middle of next year and run for nine months.
Transportation advocates are pressing hard for fares based on the income level of riders, and they are expected to lobby the next board to push ahead.
FY22 budget approved with some twists
The control board approved a nearly $2.4 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, relying on $500 million in federal aid to bring revenues in line with expenses.
The budget had few surprises, but there were some interesting twists:
Staffing for operations at the T was set at 6,353, about 440 more than was contemplated over the winter. Those additional bodies are needed to return to full service levels even though ridership is down significantly from previous years, to provide new Green Line service into Somerville and Medford, and to buttress the safety staff.
To reach the hiring level, T officials said they will need to hire 914 people, given the agency loses more than 400 workers through attrition each year. That level of hiring is 40 percent more than the agency has done the previous two years, so the human resources office is getting $350,000 more to ramp up hiring efforts.
Board chair Joe Aiello urged T staffers not to rely on federal funding to make ends meet over the next couple years, but instead consider using some portion of those federal dollars to make investments in the T that could yield long-term productivity gains and savings
For example, Aiello said, the Green Line currently operates with two-vehicle trains with two driversi. He said the T is investing in new Green Line vehicles that can carry the same number of passengers with one vehicle and one driver. He also said investments in high-level passenger platforms could allow commuter rail trains with automatic doors to operate with far fewer conductors.
The T’s budget also sets aside $30 million in a transformational investment fund, about which few details were provided other than that the money could be available for real estate deals.
GLX COVID settlement in offing
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said a COVID-19 settlement with the contractor on the Green Line extension project is nearing final approval.
The T and the contractor have been negotiating for some time about compensation related to COVID-19 slowdowns. The T even received federal funding to help cover the expected higher costs.Poftak said on Monday that a deal between the T and the contractor could be ready for review within two weeks. Joe Aiello, the chair of the control board, urged T staff not go to easy in the negotiations just because federal money is available.
“Let’s make sure that this is absolutely fully documented and airtight with regard to compliance with the contract,” Aiello said. “Just because we received additional money from the federal government doesn’t create a world of entitlement.”