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State transportation officials warn of looming fare hikes

Get ready to fork out more for your commute to work. State transportation officials said this morning that they anticipate approving an MBTA fare increase this spring that would take effect by July 1, the first fare hike on the T in 5 ½ years.

The hike would likely be bundled with reductions in service in an attempt to bridge a structural deficit that otherwise grows larger each year. Merely to preserve the status quo, the T projects a gap of $161 million between income and expenses for the coming budget year – and $330 million by fiscal 2016.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is prohibited from raising fares swiftly or on a whim. The T must first evaluate the potential impact any changes would have on ridership patterns, the environment, and low-income neighborhoods, as well as hold public workshops and hearings over the course of several months.

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But the need to raise fares, which last increased on Jan. 1, 2007, is pressing and unavoidable, said Jonathan R. Davis, acting general manager of the MBTA.

“Nothing has been decided at this point,’’ he said at a finance committee meeting of the MBTA’s board of directors. “But I think it’s clear that $161 million is probably not going to be able to be closed through additional efficiencies or reform.’’

Charles Planck, the T’s senior director for strategic initiatives, said staff from the MBTA and the region’s Central Transportation Planning Staff would begin meeting with the T’s Rider Oversight Committee in the coming weeks to develop three potential packages of fare increases and service cuts by November.

Those alternatives will then be modeled to get a better picture by January of the effects they would have on riders, T finances, and the community, followed by public hearings scattered throughout the T’s service area in early 2012 and a vote by the MBTA board in the spring, Planck said.

Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey said last week that the day-to-day costs of operating the city’s decrepit subway, rail, and bus lines are so overwhelming that riders should expect a substantial fare increase.

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