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MBTA: Both service cuts, fare hikes will be needed to close budget gap

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  March 13, 2012 04:22 PM

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The MBTA said Tuesday that both service cuts and fare increases will be needed to balance its budget for the coming fiscal year.

In a letter to T riders Tuesday, state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey and MBTA Acting General Manager Jonathan Davis thanked customers for feedback in a series of public hearings over the proposal that ended Monday night. But they warned that more service cuts or fare increases may be needed one year from now.

“The system we have today we cannot afford and the system we want is well beyond reach,” the letter said. “Unfortunately, without a new dedicated revenue source, we know we will be back in this very place next year."

In early January, the T released two scenarios. Each would raise fees and reduce services at different levels, but aim toward the same goal of filling a $159 million budget gap.

But Davis said the agency’s board will not select either of the previously released scenarios.

Instead, officials said, the committee that drafted the two initial proposals will take the feedback gathered during the public hearing process and draft a new set of recommendations that will include a combination of the plans.

Officials expect to release those recommendations before the T board’s monthly meeting on April 4.

The board has until April 15 to approve the next fiscal year’s budget, which, along with its cuts and fare increases, will take effect July 1.

In December, the T faced initial budget gap estimates of $185 million, which has since been reduced to a projected $159 million deficit after some money saving steps were taken, including reducing energy costs, planned introduction of single-person Red Line train operation, and an increase in T employee enrollment in a new, lower-cost health care plan.

Officials said the agency will continue to work toward “identifying prudent one-time revenues that will allow us to stave off some of the proposed service cuts for one year;” but, a final proposal will include changes that will reduce service and increase rider costs.

“The choices before us are difficult, to be sure. Hearing your individual stories only makes them more so,” Tuesday’s letter said.

About 6,000 people have attended and nearly 2,000 have spoken at the 31 meetings held during the past two months. And, 5,850 comments were e-mailed to the T.

In 2007, the last time the MBTA raised both subway and bus fares as tokens where phased out for the Charlie Card system, 800 people attended a public hearing, officials said.

Most who have participated in this year’s public process have pleaded with T leaders not to choose either of the two proposed scenarios.

Riders have asked officials to look harder to find ways to avoid cutting service or increasing fares. Service cuts have been more widely opposed than fare increases. Many have asked changes that would impact society’s most vulnerable be avoided.

“This is your system,” the letter concluded. “Long after we’re gone, customers will still have a need and desire for a public transit option. The decisions we make today will have a lasting impact on this system, and we thank you for remaining engaged in this process.”

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