The MBTA started the New Year with a discussion of fare increases, as the transit agency’s governing board on Monday advanced two possible price hikes—one of which would boost fares systemwide nearly 10 percent in July.
One option would yield overall systemwide increases of 6.71 percent, and the other would see a 9.77 percent increase.
Under both proposals, the price of a standard subway ride using a paper ticket would increase from $2.65 to $2.75. Paper bus tickets could actually go down under the less pricey scenario, from $2.10 to $2, or up from $2.10 to $2.25 under the second scenario.
Subway rides paid for with a discounted stored-value CharlieCard could increase from their current $2.10 cost to either $2.20 or $2.25. Bus rides paid for with a CharlieCard could increase from $1.60 to $1.70 or $1.75 per ride.
Even under the scenario with the larger bump, most of the possible increases for single rides are under 10 percent. But some of the T’s monthly pass products could increase by 10 percent or more.
The cost of a monthly LinkPass, which allows for unlimited bus and subway trips, could grow from $75 today to either $82.50—up by 10 percent—or $84.50—a 12.7 percent hike.
Commuter rail monthly passes could also increase by as high as 10 percent under the larger hike, to $398.25 per month for the commuters traveling from the furthest distance out.
The monthly passes for buses, currently $50, could increase by between 16 percent and 19.5 percent, to as high as $59.75.
And under both proposals, student passes would increase by 23 percent, from $26 to $32. Senior passes would increase from $29 to $32, or a bit over 10 percent.
Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said the T would be justified in increasing pass prices.
“We have very deeply discounted passes, more than other big-city transit systems,’’ Pollack said. “Our passes are a great deal. We want them to stay a good deal, but we think there’s room to increase the cost of the passes without losing ridership.’’
But Rafael Mares, a transit advocate and vice president with the Conservation Law Foundation, said the MBTA should not compare itself to “very different’’ systems, and that the increase in pass prices could drive passengers to the roadways, “particularly now when gas prices are low.’’
“You also have to consider the operational effect,’’ he added after Monday’s meeting. “Most of the delays of the bus come from people paying the fare when they get on the bus, so you want to encourage people to have a LinkPass when they get on the bus to avoid the delay.’’
A series of public hearings will begin this winter, and the board will likely vote on a fare increase in March. Any increase would go into effect in July. The actual proposal that comes up for a vote could take a different form from the two options advanced Monday based on public input.
“The T has a history of adopting hybrids,’’ Pollack said. “Their final decision could be neither of the two scenarios, it could be a combination.’’
T officials say a fare increase is one way to close a $242 million budget gap expected next year. The T’s existing budget for next year already anticipates a 5 percent increase for next year.
The 6.71 percent increase would fill the gap with $9.8 million, while the 9.77 percent increase would close it by $26 million. The T projects ridership could fall by 1.2 percent with the lower increase to 1.6 percent with the higher proposal.
The T has faced questions about whether it can increase fares by more than 5 percent in July, as both options would. A 2013 law required that the T not increase prices more often than every two years, at a rate of more than 5 percent per year.
The agency has interpreted that to mean fares can increase up to 10 percent every two years, while some officials and advocates have said the intent was to limit increases to 5 percent per biennium.
“Whether that was the intent, I’m not going to comment on it,’’ Pollack told reporters. “But the language of the law provides for an increase of up to 10 percent.’’
The MBTA has signaled for months that it would move to raise fares this summer. Some transit advocates have called for the T to limit the hikes, or to not institute them at all. Among their arguments: that the T hasn’t run well enough since the last price increase in 2014 to justify another.
Pollack said heightened fares were a “reasonable contribution’’ to ask for from riders, as the T also seeks to close the budget gap with other options, including cutting costs, managing absenteeism and overtime pay, and growing other revenue sources. She said closing the budget gap is important because it will free up more money to pay for repairs, which would later lead to improved service.
“We have a lot of room to do on cost-containment and increasing non-fare revenue, so the public is satisfied that the fare increase that would take place on July 1 is part of a longer strategy and we’re not going to our riders first,’’ she said. “That said, we’re probably going to need our riders to help us out in closing the budget gap.’’