The Five Percent Solution

February 28, 2016

Governor Baker’s MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board will soon vote on fare increases. The Control Board should settle on an increase of no more than 5% for three simple reasons. It comes down to respect, responsibility, and doing what is right.


Respect.  The MBTA asked for public input.  The people have spoken. Overwhelmingly, the public objects to the current proposals to increase fares by 7% or 10%. It’s a real burden for people who struggle to make ends meet. And it’s far too soon to charge that much more for subpar service, when riders have been paying more and more.  Moderate and regular increases are OK. Large hikes are not.

Question asked and answered.

Responsible budgeting. With the impressive cost savings that the Control Board and MBTA management have achieved, and with currently budgeted state assistance, an increase over 5% is not needed. And the scale of the MBTA’s capital needs (more than $7 billion), combined with all the broken roads and bridges all across the state, cry out for far-sighted transportation investment that dwarfs the relatively small amount the MBTA would get from fare increases over 5%. We are putting our state economy at risk if we don’t fix our infrastructure guided by a long-term vision.

And if it’s true that the MBTA can’t effectively spend the money it has, then asking riders for this much more is punitive, not responsible.

It’s right for the region. There’s no denying how important the T is to our economy and region, just as public transit is vital to every thriving state and country today, for people who ride the system every day, sometimes, or never.  The MBTA is important because it moves people to work and school so they can earn a living and improve their lives.  It’s important because it keep cars off our broken, crowded roads, and it helps us all do our part with the climate. 

The T will experience almost no loss of ridership with a 5% increase.  Any more than that, and we are digging ourselves into a hole.

The bottom line. Over the last year, the volunteer members of the Control Board have put in a lot of time and effort to turn around the T.  We thank them! And we know that there is a long way to go, and that it’s not just the MBTA that needs attention, but Regional Transit Authorities, cities' and towns’ streets and sidewalks, MassDOT infrastructure and more.

This is a decisive moment for the MBTA.  Are T leaders and Governor Baker truly committed to better transportation, including the MBTA, where everyone contributes and everyone benefits? Or are they asking T riders alone to pay an outsized price, when these workers, students, seniors and families already bear the burden of relying on public transit that doesn’t work today.

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