Saturday, 2:15 PM
With money tight, MBTA delays vote on new equipment
By Noah Bierman, Globe Staff
In another sign of financial crisis within the region's transit system, the MBTA board of directors today put off a vote on their annual plan to replace aging buses, rail tracks, and subway cars.
The five-year capital investment plan would require the T to borrow more than $1 billion as part of a $3.79 billion "state of good repair" program that the authority approves yearly, usually without dissent.
"I'm not suggesting that these investments are a bad idea," said Ferdinand Alvaro, a board member. But "this is the most highly leveraged transit system in the United States... Either we change the game or we change the policy. We just cannot afford to borrow an additional $1 billion."
Members of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's board have been increasingly worried that the agency cannot afford to run with a business-as-usual attitude now that it faces potentially drastic service cuts and fare increases to accommodate a $160 million deficit. Last week, the Globe reported on a working plan at the T that would slash evening and weekend commuter rail service, eliminate commuter boats, and cut off-peak service in half on the subway and bus lines.
The T is waiting on the Legislature to consider an increase in the state gas tax that would bail the agency out, but has so far not found much support on Beacon Hill.
T managers told board members that they are required by law to pass the repair plan by May 1 every year and that the agency cannot spend money on repair and replacement programs not included in the plan. Much of the money is federally funded, but the plan requires the T to borrow heavily to fund its portion.
James A. Aloisi Jr., the transportation secretary who chairs the board, said board members could reconvene in a special meeting later this month so they can learn more about specifics in the plan before taking a vote. Aloisi also emphasized that any service cuts would include a public discussion and that there were "a variety of options" in how those cuts would be made if they become necessary.
Taisha O'Bryant, a member of the T Riders Union, said that riders like her who are "truly transit-dependent" are upset that lawmakers haven't stepped in yet with more funding for the T.
"Reform is good, and we need reform. But we need revenue more," she said.