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Davey Forecasts Deeper Budget Pain For MBTA

Allison Case, of Boston, front, pretends to be crushed under Big Dig debt, along with other protesters during a demonstration in front of the State House on Feb. 14. (AP)

Allison Case, of Boston, front, pretends to be crushed under Big Dig debt, along with other protesters during a demonstration in front of the State House on Feb. 14. (AP)

While acknowledging how difficult it will be for the MBTA to close its upcoming year’s budget gap, Transportation Secretary Richard Davey made it clear Tuesday: the gap’s only going to get worse.

“Even if we’re able to solve even a portion of this this year, it only pushes the problem to next year,” he said. “Three years from now the T’s deficit is $330 million.”

The transit authority is considering two proposals for fare hikes and service cuts to help close a projected $161 million budget gap for the 2013 fiscal year. In response, so far more than 4,000 riders have showed up at a series of public hearings to voice concerns with the proposals.

Richard Davey, outside WBUR's studio (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Richard Davey, outside WBUR's studio (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

But repeatedly in a question-and-answer session on Radio Boston Tuesday, Davey indicated that the MBTA’s problem is bigger. And he outlined the difficulty associated with various proposed solutions.

Transferring debt from the T back to the state? “If you move the Big Dig debt back to the state, the state has to pay for that in some way, shape or form,” Davey said. “So that’s either cuts or more revenue as well.”

A separate MBTA Advisory Board plan would, in part, seek to offload some of the T’s services on other agencies. The MBTA has been studying giving the Silver Line and ferry service to Massport, but, Davey said, “a number of the proposals are interesting,” but require other stakeholders to commit.

Davey also appeared open to additional zone pricing and so-called index pricing, in which fares increase regularly at a fixed rate. But, he said, the T needs to get its financial footing first.

“You look at the financial situation today, and where it’s going to be two or three years from now. I would be being dishonest if I said we could do a 5 or 10 percent fare increase two years from now and all would be fine. It will not be.”

Davey also downplayed a recent report that indicated the T is coalescing around a plan with fewer service cuts.

“We don’t have a plan yet to mollify some of these significant service cuts,” he said. “We’re still listening to folks, but those cuts, you know, are still on the table.”

Davey stressed that “we need to be thinking more broadly” about transit priorities and a comprehensive financing plan.

“If we don’t solve this,” Davey said, “the MBTA service zone will certainly shrink over the next few years.”

The public hearings on the T’s budget proposals continue until March 12.

Web buildout by the WBUR Newsroom. Click “Listen Now” atop this post for Meghna’s full Q&A with Davey.

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Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

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