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 final text as further modified in the general cleanup amendment is visible at this link (see the last section of the bill).

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.

This post is closed for additional comment, but please follow this link to share your views on how to address the MBTA’s challenges in our discussion forum.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

10 replies on “MBTA Funding, Seniors and Persons with Disabilities”

  1. I’d love to see a long-term solution for the MBTA, instead of these annual band-aids.

    Despite the grandstanding by the Senators from Western MA, my sense is that the T is reasonably well-run, but is crippled by the fact that sales tax revenues haven’t met expectations and the mammoth amount of debt that it’s been saddled with. I’m not sure how ANYONE could run the T on a stable basis with this financial predicament.

    Is there any hope of an improved revenue stream and/or relieving the T of some/all of the Big Dig debt that it’s stuck with?

  2. I think it’s unfair to make public transport bear the burden of the Big Dig debt. The Big Dig benefits MOTORISTS, and it’s they who should be taxed to pay for it. Public transport is the wave of the future, and should be encouraged, not squashed.

    1. I agree that saddling the MBTA with the debt from the Big Dig is essentially an illegitimate form of regressive taxation – transferring the funding from a service for the lower class to a service for the middle and upper classes. It should be fought.

  3. The other thing nobody thinks about is how much public transportation benefits motorists! Can you imagine what it would be like to go downtown if there were no T?

    Also, people in the western part of the state don”t want to pay for the MassPike or the Big Dig, but they are completely dependent on cars out there. If I lived out there, I’d be using the state and county roads constantly. Way more than I do here. Why shouldn’t they have to kick in too?

  4. Pleases me no end that we spend $2mil per year to put those useless front plates on our cars. I’d be happy to see it go to public transit instead. Clearly, the legislature feels otherwise (sorry, just sour grapes)

  5. Thank you for these comments! I think there is an emerging consensus that we need to develop new revenues to better support transportation generally — roads, bridges, MBTA, RTA’s — over the years to come. That conversation will be joined next year.

  6. I think it’s time to raise the gas tax; the price of gas fluctuates up and down regularly, lets take a few cents of that to repair the roads and fund the T. I have no problem using the gas tax for that. More people on the T = less traffic on the roads; it’s a win/win.

  7. I am thankful that although rates were increased the routes I use were not cut although that had been a possibility. I would also like to see gas taxes increased to help pay for tramsportation infrastructure…I much prefer to use the bus and T to go downtown to work rather than drive in traffic even though the T takes longer. At least I feel like I’m making less of a footprint environmentally (and the walk is better for me!)

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