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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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  • Anonymous

    Why have the number of T announcements increased?  They decreased under Davey and now they are back up.

  • Anonymous

    Why not shift the costs to another DOT agency like when the state stuck the MBTA with Big Dig Costs?

  • Adam

    Why doesn’t the State House care about the service cuts?  If there’s no commuter rail service on the weekends what does the city think will have to tourism, the job market, the university system.   I’m not sure how the budget works in detail but I think the city saved a little on snow removal this year, why can’t that money be leveraged to lessen the impact of the MBTA debt?

  • Anonymous

    Charge the colleges more but going after all cultural institutions (ex: MFA) aren’t a drain on the system.

  • Anonymous

    How about reverse distance pricing for people who take the green line only one or two stops (exclude handicapped and elderly) and make them pay more?

  • Larry

    While I respect the debt issues and the 5 yr lag on raising fares, I don’t understand how MBTA was “allowed” to go public with awful, “no-win” proposals in the first place, except as scheme so commuters would “accept” fare hikes only as palatable… Where was the “thoughtful” discussion of the problem among legislative and exec. leaders? And why did not the Secty. present that information before MBTA threw down its gauntlets… 

    Pls. also ask Secty. Davey to address the “big picture” — getting SOVs off highways and secondaries into urban centers by enhancing and improving the system; gas taxes as incentive to use public transit; even “ring road” (peak/off-peak) toll systems like London or Singapore to thin out traffic (jams) if not goad people into taking bus/T.

    Suburban intermodal transit is becoming increasingly important — cutting subsidies is 180 degrees the other way. Increasing age demographics dictate smart analysis of this huge load coming (cannot be accommodated by cutting suburban transit support, nor RIDE). What has the State done to plan for this?

  • farepayer

    I see the same fare collection problem on the commeter rail all the time. I pay with a 12-ride care and frequently get 15 rides from it because the conductor punches the same hole twice.

    • Ken Krause

       The same occurs on the Lowell commuter rail line. The conductors, if they come through the cars at all, frequently punch over an already punched hole on my 12-ride ticket. I reported this at a “Meet the Managers” session at North Station last year. No change. Why in the world are they even still punching paper tickets? The commuter rail was supposed to be added to the Charlie Card system years ago. What’s the hold up?

  • Larry

    People need to be educated about the full “cost” of driving — we are polluting, wasting precious energy, repairing roads, etc. etc. more by not developing and incentivizing public transit. Conservatives hate this talk, but if we don’t account for ALL the costs, it looks “cheaper” to just drive. Accommodation for lower-income drivers (a common point that some people have to drive and cannot afford a gas tax hike) can be accomplished through some tax credit but anyone filling their tank needs to think they are paying for that and should consider public transit whenever possible. 

    • lisa

      Democrats who live in central ma. and have to travel 65 miles a day for work where there is no public transportation won’t like it either!

      • TeaPartyGirl

        Lisa, same thing: First, that driver is not paying anywhere near their “fair share” of highway maintenance, even with their small slice of sales and gas tax contributions. Second, things have never been priced correctly; everyone just thinks about the gas/car maint. when they consider costs of living/commuting. Times have changed. We now know the true cost is much higher. Pollution, energy dependence, full costs to repair roads (including State Trooper Detail OT — especially the highly-educated ones thanks to the Quinn Bill — who also generate super paychecks magically the 3 years just before to retirement, over-stressing MA Pension Funds? But I digress…). 

        How did that commuter choose to live 30+ miles from their job? If they are coming into greater Boston area, they are part of the greater challenge of ALL transportation costs. Even if driving West, or South or North, are they paying full share for highway upkeep, pollution and energy-dependence? Why are they not car-pooling? If the “cost” was higher, maybe folks would be motivated to create public transit, and companies would migrate closer to terminal ends of roads or bus routes. Just like recent health care “visit co-pays” motivate smarter use of health care, paying more for the privilege of driving 65 miles a day (SOV no doubt) should bear some expense. Figure out a carpool, mobilize politicians to create a TDM plan, or lobby for a “spine” bus line to aleviate “drive only” mentalities. As a Boston resident, I would support the use of my taxes for that “smart-growth” planning!

  • Yasmin

    I think the MBTA could benefit from using alternative techniques to increase ridership. Offer a Groupon/Living Social style sale on  Charlie  Cards – 30 rides for the prices of 25, or 125 rides for the price of 100. Something that could entice new people to ride, or increase ridership overall. I would certainly be interested in such a program, and I’m not a frequent commuter.

  • Anonymous

    How much money is spent on branding?  Does the Charlie logo need to be on the construction signs?  Did the commuter rail schedule need to be switched to the more expensive four color ink on glossy paper?

  • Eric Herot

    Secretary Davey’s concerns about not picking the pockets of other state agencies are misplaced.  It’s true that “someone” is going to have to pay for reallocating MBTA debt, but moving the debt to the general fund would spread the responsibility far more equitably across income levels than raising MBTA fares.  Why should fare increases be seriously considered but not moving the debt around?

  • Anonymous

    Ban eating on trains and the stations to reduce cleaning costs?  Do we need both Arlington and Boylston?  Need Northeastern and MFA? 

  • Sally Millar

    I’ve never understood why ALL of the T tickets (Charlie Card, monthly pass, etc.) look the SAME on the front.  This allows fare evaders on the surface lines who enter through the back doors to hold up ANY card, expired ticket, etc. and get away with it! Why not make all stored value tickets a different color, as well as weekly passes, so that it’s CLEAR who needs to come forward and pay?

    • Anonymous

      That would interfere with uniform Charlie branding which is more important than fare collection.  They have dealt with fare evasion with yet another public service announcement and posters featuring Charlie. 

  • Charlie

    Re Big Dig Debt: Time to admit it was a disaster, and sit down with our lenders and renegotiate this “loan” — no way is this sustainable at the cost of cutting service, jacking fares up resulting in LESS people using the T/Bus, etc. Then with a new deal, you might go with a special debt-retirement bond float and get this albatross off the books. If no part of the State finances can handle this, then it shouts for a very different solution.  

  • Diane

    I just listened to the portion of your program with Secretary Davey regarding budget problems in the T and solutions under discussion, including fare increases and service cuts.  I must reiterate what some of your call-in guest made comments about.  Particularly, on the 57 bus, at Kenmore and along the entire route, fares are not collected by the drivers.  Is collecting these fares going to save the T and their financial woes, probably not.  But, as a paying customer of the T, hearing about the fare increases and service cuts while watching T riders waved on by bus drivers is infuriating.
    Are bus drivers under some time constraints to have a bus arrive at a given location at a given time???  Don’t you think there should be some flexibility on the time factor so that fares can be collected????

  • MA DoT scam

    What a  S C A M  that MA has no way for people (boarding at many stops in Newton, Brookline, Allston, etc) to buy a single-ride ticket — AND get back change — if paying with a $5 bill or larger.

    If MA can’t afford to install a ticket machine at each stop, ok — but at least have a way for people to buy, on board, a ticket — without MA pocketing their change.  

    The excuse, however true, that the “pocketed” change comes in the form of a ticket, good for future rides, is sloppy in this 21st century of technology.

    But what a way for MA Dept. of Transport and Mr. Davey’s recent MBTA home to get revenue ! 

  • Fran

    Why am I always thinking that the T politics are still 50 years behind the current time. Yet the T was the first system in the US. What happened to the citizens and the politicians, that they have had such a history of being backward, implementing band aids rather than having a forward looking effective strategy.
    What a huge mistake to put so much big dig debt on the T. Yet the T did not get ANYTHING from it. There had been proposals to have rail lines connect North and South Station which obviously was never done.
    Why are T users subsidizing suburban drivers???
    The more expensive and the less frequent and reliable the T service is, the less people will use it. Look at systems abroad that have been built up over the last 50 years. For example in Switzerland where public investment over many years has made the system so dense and frequent that it truly is more pleasant to use the trains than cars. The tickets for the entire system were structured in such a way that it had incentives and became affordable. You can pay for a yearly half fare reduction ticket  that has you pay for half the ticket price when you use the system. This is such a huge incentive to actually use the system, but at a reduced cost. As a result the numbers of users went up, therefor the income went up, therefor the frequency of service went up, therefor it became more and more convenient to use it.

    Why don’t you plan an increased public transportation net instead of planing to take service for some routes off?

    Frequent suburban trains tied closely to the subway system will do much. Where ever possible it should be easy to go from one to the other. Express trains on some routes during some times will attract more people. Scheduling trains so that a transfer is easy and not time consuming because you have to wait hours for the connecting train. It is impossible to go from Waltham to Salem, that could easily be fixed with clever scheduling.

    Instead of having trains go through Cambridge or other areas to fix the big mistake of not connecting the North and South Stations, you could make a ring rail on the 128 public right of way that connects to the suburban train system and collect so many of the drivers that sit on 128 in slow moving traffic.

    Are we sure that oil prices will not suddenly go through the roof. How is pollution going to be reduced with this lack of foresight? Legislators what are you thinking if you are not addressing these problems. Who will be blamed for lack of creativity and leadership.

  • Anonymous

    Where is the third proposal? Cutting the 6-digit salary of the upper management? Obviously these 6-digit people  did a lousy job, otherwise the MBTA won’t be 160 mil in debt. They don’t deserve to receive a 6-digit salary, where is their accountabilities?  Why don’t the 6-digit management  do something to save the MBTA which they milked for so long instead of service cut and fare hike on the mostly lower 5-digit and 4-digit income riders?

  • Yaeylang

    Why the Mystery?

    Mr. Davey and the MBTA have not been forthcoming about facts and trends in ridership and fare revenue for all modes and routes and trips on the route schedules.

    Mr. Davey and the MBTA need to explain how they determine that a route or route service hours or route serice days deserve to be in the “eliminate” column.

    Paul Lang
    Melrose

  • Steve

    Why is there no mention of the expaining plans with the south coast rail project?  Easton Jonal reports they will accelerate the south coast rail schedule.  Something doesn’t make sense here.  There are proposals to cut service at the same time they will be investing in expanding communter rail.  Can you please followup and on this?

    http://www.wickedlocal.com/easton/news/x1138491413/South-Coast-Rail-project-on-track-says-manager#axzz1nVaHtpo0
    -Steve
    Easton

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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