Jessica Bartlett for The Boston Globe
State officials say that if economic growth in the region is to continue, they will need to start looking for more ways to generate revenue for transportation.
Richard Davey, the MassDOT secretary and CEO, expounded on the need for increased revenue at the Plymouth County Transportation Breakfast on Friday, where four chambers of commerce, two area planning councils, state legislators, and numerous tourism industries gathered to discuss the state of transportation in the South Shore.
Transportation is a vital aspect to improving the local economy, said Paul Cripps, executive director of the Plymouth County Development Council.
“Anyone from the tourism industry, real estate - transportation is one thing that connects everybody, so anyone with an interest in moving around or having people from outside the area move around in the area” has an interest in transportation and its future, Cripps said.
For the means of transportation – from roads, to bridges, to public service – to flourish, the key is finding the funds, Davey said.
“What I’m trying to do is get out and talk to business leaders for the need for investing in the long term in our transportation system,” Davey said.
Part of that investment may come by way of a gasoline tax. Other options are for increased fares for public transportation. It’s all in an effort to keep people moving and keep infrastructure working throughout the South Shore
That effort has started with the recently approved fare hike for numerous MBTA services, increasing 30 cents for most subway fares, 25 cents for bus fares, and $1.25 or more on commuter rail fares, starting July 1.
However. the increase, the first in five years, is a short-term solution to solving the T’s huge debt, Davey said.
“The T will be back with more fare hikes and service cuts unless there is a long-term financial solution that’s proposed,” Davey said. “The [MBTA] admin is still having conversations with the Legislature about what we can do … we proposed a gas tax three years ago, and that wasn’t accepted. [So] we’re looking forward to a robust dialogue between the executive branch and legislative branch.”
If the funding isn’t there, the only other option is service cuts.
“We looked at, as our customers asked for, to scale back on service cuts and increase fares, which is what we did. But unfortunately, we couldn’t close the budget gap without some form of service cuts, or total elimination of a couple of bus routes. We’re going to eliminate weekend service on the [Greenbush and Kingston] commuter lines … we couldn’t avoid cuts to services,” Davey said.
Davey acknowledged that cutting service was counterproductive to job growth, economic development, and environmental stewardship, but unless more funding becomes available in some way, it’s unavoidable.
“The grand tragedy in all of this is what we heard almost unanimously from our customers is people want more transportation services, we just can’t afford to do it,” Davey said.
Pasquale Ciaramella , executive director of the Old Colony Planning Council, said that although the request for increased funds might mean higher costs to consumers, it is well worth it.
“[Transportation] is the lifeline to economic development,” Ciaramella said. “I think it’s important that they have to pay for that infrastructure somehow. We want the service; someone has to pay for that.”
Although public transportation may be floundering in some aspects, Davey did acknowledge many “targeted investments” occurring in transportation services throughout the region.
Four, double-decker commuter coaches are being tested in Massachusetts to put in place of the single level coaches currently in use. Aspects of the Red Line, such as doors and air conditioning, are being improved, and cars purchased in 1969 will be retired in upcoming years.
Quincy Center will also see some improvements along with the $1.6 billion redevelopment of the downtown.
“We’re hoping to cut off a few garage levels,” Davey said, as the Quincy Center T-stop is no longer a driving commuter destination.
Wollaston will also get a new elevator.
The Department of Transportation is also looking to reform several budgets to make things more economical, improve on customer service by bringing RMV services online, and using messaging boards for up-to-date commuter information, increase transparency in the organization, and hold agencies with the department to strict budgets.