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T budget plan calls for fare hikes, delayed repairs

General manager Beverly Scott said the agency hopes to make do until new funds are OK’d.
General manager Beverly Scott said the agency hopes to make do until new funds are OK’d. Credit:

As the MBTA nears its deadline to finalize next year’s budget, transportation officials detailed more clearly Tuesday how they plan to close the multimillion-dollar operating deficit, a strategy that will probably include fare increases and deferring preventive maintenance.

T officials hope the austerity measures will not be necessary: Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed transportation funding plan would provide a $166 million injection into next year’s operating costs. But it will be months before legislators vote on the plan, and the T’s budget deadline is April 10.

In its budget plan, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will probably defer $45 million in upkeep on trains and stations for a year, General Manager Beverly A. Scott said Tuesday, with the hope that the agency will be able to squeeze by until it has more funding.

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“I’m praying it’s a timing and figuring-it-out issue,” Scott said.

Though the T’s official deficit stands at $140 million, an estimated increase in ridership, which brings additional revenue from fares, and new initiatives such as digital ads in T stations have narrowed the gap to about $117 million.

Other budget-balancing measures, Scott said, have been tailored with the hope that lawmakers will approve further state funding. Rather than curtailing service hours, the T would rely heavily on fare increases, she said, which could be rolled back if state funding becomes available.

Less popular bus routes would probably be cut, she said.

Fare increases would spread the cost-cutting measures more evenly among riders, Scott said, though it could have a greater impact on senior citizens and those with disabilities.

In recent weeks, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and other legislators have said that preventing an increase in the cost of T fares will be a high priority as they hash out details of the bill.

A final proposal for the T’s budget will be submitted for review by the MassDOT board of directors on March 28 .

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