We are grateful to the Baker Administration and the Governor’s Special Panel to Review the MBTA for their intense and rapid effort to diagnose the problems at the MBTA and develop a blueprint for putting the agency on track for success. We thank the Administration for making MBTA reform a top priority.
A world class region like ours deserves a world class transit system that people can rely on, and an agency we can trust to spend funds wisely and efficiently. Our economy depends on a strong public transportation system that provides mobility and access to jobs and opportunity, while reducing carbon pollution.
The report surfaces new information about the scope of the financial and managerial problems at the agency. We urge swift implementation of the reforms needed to improve the MBTA’s efficiency, accountability, and customer communications in order to better meet the needs of all of us who ride. The Panel also recommends that as these critical reforms are underway, we must ease travel for today’s passengers by making urgently needed repairs and upgrades.
We wholeheartedly agree with the Panel’s rejection of the “reform versus revenue” debate. The MBTA clearly needs both, and we are pleased to see the Panel’s report reflect the consensus view that the MBTA will need additional revenues to effectively serve current and future MBTA riders.
While the Panel recommends a temporary moratorium on construction for expansion projects, it recommends continuing planning and design for critical projects, recognizing that the T needs to meet the needs of the future. Ridership is at an all time high, and it will continue to grow.
As the Administration moves forward on implementing the Panel’s recommendations, and as the legislature considers the proposals, we have two preliminary recommendations:
- There be no cut to the funding the legislature intended to provide to support MBTA operations, as outlined in the 2013 Transportation Finance Act’s pro forma. The Panel notes that the structural deficit is widening every year, and recommends that the MBTA increasingly rely on “own-source” revenues, which include fares, advertising, and other sources, to help close this gap. At the same time, the Panel recommends dedicating state funds to debt service and the costs of employees now paid for on the capital budget. We agree that state funds should be used for these two purposes, but restricting these funds to just these two purposes could result in less funding for the T than what the legislature intended in the 2013 Act. If there is less state funding available in coming years, we fear the growing deficit will result in substantial fare increases.
- To ensure that the MBTA remains affordable to riders, we recommend retaining the current fare cap. The law restricts fare increases to 5% every two years. This keeps fare hikes predictable, regular, and affordable. The Panel recommends removing the fare cap. This would reduce the ability of our low-income residents to access opportunities, and may also reduce ridership overall.
There is a clear timetable for implementing some of the reforms outlined in the report. Because it will take significant time to develop revenue sources to address the MBTA’s significant maintenance backlog and enhance the core system, we urge the administration and the legislature to begin the conversation about how to ensure adequate, reliable, and sustainable resources for not only the MBTA, but also the rest of the state’s transportation system, including our roads, bridges, regional buses, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
We look forward to more fully exploring the challenges outlined in the report, and working with the Baker Administration and the legislature to turn-around the MBTA and rebuild a system that can support the region’s people and our economy.