The MBTAs oversight board voted today to raise parking rates by $2 at all of its lots and garages beginning Nov. 15, as part of a plan to pay back wages owed to union employees.
For many daily riders, the increase will have the same effect as a $10 per week fare increase, or about $500 per year. Rates currently vary, from $1 per day at ferry yards, to $2 at most commuter rail station lots, up to as much as $5 at the four most expensive garages.
Thats doubling it, said Margie Katz, a record supervisor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston who takes the commuter rail to work from the Campello station in Brockton, where daily rates had been $2. It will be an extreme hardship.
Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said rates are still much cheaper than they are in downtown Boston, some of the most expensive in the country, and that they have not gone up at commuter rail lots in five years. Even without the latest emergency, they were due for an increase, he said.
Half a decade is certainly a long time between increases, he said.
The MBTA has benefitted from an increase in riders on its buses, boats, trains, and subways for eight straight months, in large part because commuters have tried to save money as gas prices increased. As a result, parking lots and garages often fill up long before the end of morning rush hour.
The T has made several efforts to retain the new riders and attract more, including a pilot program providing free Internet access on the Framingham/ Worcester train line since January. The board voted today to expand the Internet program to other commuter rail lines, beginning in December and completed by late spring, at a cost of $1.4 million.
It is unclear what effect, if any, the higher parking rates will have on ridership.
Several commuters said they would pay the higher rates, even if it is a struggle, because they have no choice. Jim Kimball, an architect who currently pays $5 to park at the Braintree Garage, worries some commuters will not be able to afford it.
I know they are broke, he said, referring to the MBTA. But theyre going to decrease their ridership. Its a Catch-22 for them, but they cant keep making it more expensive.
The parking rate increase was one of many tough options facing the MBTA board as members tried to come up with about $53 million owed to its union members in back wages as a result of a July arbitration ruling. In addition, the agency owes $4.6 million more on a contract extension with the private company that runs commuter rail service.
MBTA managers had expected to cover those costs through a combination of borrowing money, using the last $1 million from the agencys emergency fund, and depleting a modest capital fund set aside to keep equipment maintained.
But the Ts board voted last month to table that proposal, as members were concerned about adding to the Ts $8.1 billion debt load to pay operating expenses.
The payment delay infuriated union members, who threatened to impact service by taking advantage of work rules that allowed them to decline shifts and drive the trains slower.
Todays approved plan avoids borrowing more money to pay the wages, but the T will still empty its rainy day fund, and pull about $23 million from the repair fund. That leaves only $10 million for emergency repairs, minuscule for an agency with a $1.5 billion operating budget.
We will have less cash available, said Jonathan Davis, the Ts deputy general manager and chief financial officer who devised the plan. This is a concern in a time of real uncertainty.
One board member, Darnell L. Williams, had suggested raising parking rates by $3 instead of $2, to keep more money in the reserve accounts. But the board did not vote on that proposal. Williams is one of several newly appointed board members who has asked tougher questions about the Ts financial crisis.
The newest member, Ferdinand Alvaro, said before voting on the revised wage plan yesterday that he would oppose it unless the board agreed to take more action in fixing the Ts larger budget problems. Bernard Cohen, the state transportation secretary who leads the board, said he would form a committee for that purpose next week.
The increased parking rates are expected to bring in about $11.8 million this budget year, which ends June 30. After that, it will generate an estimated $18.9 million per year.
Todays plan also depends on several other budgetary moves, including shifting unspent money from last years budget, anticipating the higher ridership trend will continue through the end of the year, and getting help on some expenses from the Massachusetts Port Authority.
Noah Bierman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.