Yesterday, the state senate passed legislation providing the funding necessary to implement the fare/service plan that the T proposed in April. The House has already passed similar legislation. The 26-9 vote reflected frustrations from legislators outside the MBTA service area with the need to make an additional contribution to support of the system. Click here for more on the development of this issue.
During the course of debate on the bill, I offered an amendment that spoke to the issue of disproportionate fare increases for seniors and persons with disabilities. The amendment was adopted with modifications. The text as adopted follows:
SECTION XX. There shall be a study of the impact of the MBTA fare increases effective July 1, 2012 on seniors and persons with disabilities. The study shall include, but not be limited to, the impact of the fare increases on their finances, employment, and quality of life. The study shall also examine and propose possible ways of mitigating these impacts. The study shall be conducted jointly by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and the Office of Disability. The MBTA shall cooperate and provide all information necessary to prepare the report. The report, together with any recommendations for legislative or administrative action, shall be submitted by January 1, 2013 to the joint committee on transportation, the Senate and House committees on Ways and Means and the MBTA.”
The amendment, as I offered it, was the same compromise language adopted in the House in response to an amendment offered by Representative Hecht and others. Since it is now in both bills (with one difference — the House version includes students in the study scope) it is likely to be adopted in the final conference resolution.
The background to the amendment is that in both branches, senior advocates had asked for a limitation on rate increases for seniors and disabled persons. The rate limitations seemed like too large a restructuring of the fare structure that the T had proposed — the T’s proposed structure is consistent with the structure in other cities. But this study should shine some light on the issues that will help shape the debate about long term funding which will come next year.
The Senate bill differs in some minor respects from what the House approved, but it is reasonable to expect a speedy resolution of the differences. The bill should be on its way to the Governor’s desk shortly.
The Senate President’s official press release appears below
BOSTON – The Senate on Tuesday passed an emergency funding package on a 26-9 vote that will help the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) close its budget deficit for the 2012 fiscal year, Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) announced.
“These measures will get us through the end of the fiscal year, but they are only a temporary solution,” Murray said. “At the beginning of next year, we need omnibus legislation that looks closely at our road, bridge and transit systems. Though our public transportation systems need to be subsidized, the board cannot keep coming back and asking for money. There must be a much broader conversation about Massachusetts’s massive transportation funding problems, and the board needs develop a comprehensive, long-term financial plan for the entire state.”
“Through this legislation, we have created a short-term fix necessary to close this year’s MBTA deficit,” said Senator Thomas M. McGee (D-Lynn), Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. “Today’s debate highlights the need for a robust and comprehensive long-term solution for the Commonwealth’s entire transportation system. Transportation is such an important part of our current and future economy. I look forward to the ongoing discussion on how we need to maintain and expand our transportation system across the state.”
The bill requires the Registry of Motor Vehicles to transfer $51 million in vehicle inspection fees to the Massachusetts Transportation Fund and distribute $2 million to the RTAs and $49 million to the MBTA. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) must also transfer $1.5 million in surplus from its snow and ice budget to the Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs).
The legislation also increases fare evasion penalties to $75 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, and $350 for each subsequent offense. According to the bill, if a fine is not paid within 21 days, the violator’s driver’s license will be suspended until it is paid.
Additionally, the bill authorizes the MBTA and RTAs to share information with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services so that the RIDE program might be eligible for MassHealth federal reimbursement.
Finally, the legislation requires the board of MassDOT to develop a long-term transportation financing plan for the state by December 31, 2012. And it requires MassDOT to issue a report on the estimated cost of restoring weekend service on the Old Colony commuter rail line.
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