With one week left on the clock before the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority votes on fare hikes that could raise the cost of riding the T by nearly 10 percent, transit officials heard nearly an hour of public testimony about the proposal Monday afternoon.
The control board is weighing two proposals. One would lift the average fare by 6.7 percent, the other by 9.8 percent. The options could be tweaked before the vote.
Public interest groups tussled over what, exactly, the MBTA should do.
Do what you need to do.
A coalition called Fix Our T urged the board to “stay the course.’’
The group did not specifically speak about fare hikes in their remarks, instead vaguely referencing upcoming difficult decisions facing the board. Asked for an opinion on whether the T should raise fares, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Eilleen McAnneny said the board should do whatever it sees fit.
“The board has the objectivity and the data to make those decisions, and we stand by those decisions,’’ she said. “It appears everyone believes there should be a fare increase —’’ a statement proven false during the meeting “— and I think the real question is the amount, and we leave that up to the control board.’’
During the meeting, coalition member Peter Forman, CEO of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, urged the board “not to take half-hearted measures’’ in its effort to fix the T.
Keep it low.
Other business groups, elected officials, and community health advocates said that if fares are going to rise, they should be limited.
They point to a 2013 law they say was intended to limit fare hikes to 5 percent every two years. The law ultimately wound up reading that fares could increase at an annual rate of 5 percent, and not more often than every two years.
CommonWealth magazine has reported that the linguistic change seemingly came at the last second, and the T has used it as grounds on which to seek increases of close to 10 percent.
Representatives of two business-backed organizations—A Better City, which focuses much of its attention on transportation issues, and the left-leaning Alliance for Business Leadership—were among those calling for a limit of 5 percent.
’’Many of ABC’s member organizations subsidize monthly passes for employees,’’ said Thomas Ryan, A Better City’s director of public policy and government affairs. “Some organizations were budgeting for a 5 percent increase, but your proposal shows the potential for a 16 percent increase in monthly bus passes or 12 percent increase in subway passes.’’
Lynn City Council President Daniel Cahill said the T should adhere to the “legislative intent’’ of a 5 percent increase.
David Aronstein, program director of the Boston Alliance for Community Health, called the T “a health resource’’ because it increases access to health care and decreases pollution, and said he worried that fare hikes would stunt ridership.
“That’s why I, from a health organization, am here to voice opposition to any fare increase, but if it’s unavoidable, to limit the increase to 5 percent,’’ he said.
Don’t you dare.
Many of the nearly three dozen commenters were less willing to compromise, opposing any fare hike whatsoever.
The T Riders Union has led the charge for weeks against increases, characterizing the debate as a big-money boxing fight between riders and “reigning champion Mr. Hikes.’’
Caroline Casey, a community organizer for the group, said the T does not need fare hikes to balance its budget. Since the legislature provides money to close the T’s budget gap, it is a “lie’’ to say fare hikes are needed to help close the gap, she said.
The T says it plans to use most of the legislative money to perform repair work during the next fiscal year, including on faulty signals. Casey disputed that the $100 million that could go to repair work with a fare increase would go very far toward solving the T’s $7 billion repair backlog.
Casey said fare hikes “only serve as a major step backwards for transportation access and equity.’’
Tyree Ware, another member, took issue with the T’s meeting schedule, saying the midday start time meant students could not be present. Student passes—which would increase by more than 20 percent under the fare proposals—have emerged as a controversial aspect of the fare proposals.
Following their comments, members of the riders group briefly chanted “fight the hike’’ at the meeting.