BOSTON (AP) — With another MBTA fare hike looming this summer, talk on Beacon Hill and beyond is again turning to additional ways to help pay for the state’s aging transportation system.
At a meeting this week during which the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Fiscal and Management Control Board voted to boost fares an average of about 6 percent, critics of the hike, including Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, said the state needs to find other sources of revenue to tap.
Wu and other transit advocates said lawmakers should look at raising the state gas tax, increasing fees on ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber, and so-called congestion pricing, essentially a toll placed on cars driving into dense urban centers at peak hours.
Ultimately, Wu said, she would like to see free public transit, which she said needs to be inclusive, accessible, reliable and affordable.
“This fare hike will not get us there,” she said. “It is nowhere near the funding needed to reach that vision.”
Environmental groups also opposed the fare increase, saying it could force some riders back into cars, which could increase pollution.
The MBTA opted to moderate their toll plan by exempting bus fares from hikes. Student and senior fares will also be exempt. The fare hikes are scheduled to kick in July 1. The T says they would raise about $29 million annually.
Those calls for additional non-fare sources of revenue may be reaching some key sets of ears on Beacon Hill.
During a speech this week to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo spoke about the need to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure and the need for the money to pay for those improvements.
DeLeo alluded to a 2014 ballot question that repealed a 2013 law meant to tie future increases in the gas tax to the rate of inflation. The law would have effectively allowed automatic gas tax hikes without requiring lawmakers to take additional votes.
“People often forget that the Legislature’s attempts to direct money into transportation were reversed at the ballot box,” DeLeo said during his chamber address.
But talking to reporters after the speech, DeLeo sounded open to the idea of looking for additional sources of revenue.
That may even include taking another look at the gas tax, he said, adding that some House lawmakers have suggested they could support the idea.
“I think we’re at a stage where if we’re going to get serious about addressing this issue then everything and anything has to be on the table,” DeLeo said.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has generally opposed broad-based taxes but has made efforts to improve the MBTA one of the long-term goals of his administration.
Baker has said that the MBTA plans to make “a massive investment” of $8 billion on its core system and two expansions associated with the Green Line extension and South Coast Rail over the next five years.
In a report released in December, Baker’s Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth also acknowledged that the MBTA has to look beyond just fare hikes.
The report credited the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board with finding ways to cut costs but said that may not be enough.
“While traditional revenue sources such as user fees and increased taxes must be considered, revenue generation from real estate, advertising, and other operations need to be maximized,” the report said.
State law limits MBTA fare hikes to 7 percent within each two-year period. The last time they were raised was in 2016.
The board also approved a measure this week designed to put off any additional fare hike for at least three years.