The following is from the Office of Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy:
The Senate has approved an emergency funding package that will help the MBTA close a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, Sen. John F. Keenan said.
The legislation transfers $49 million in vehicle inspection fees to the MBTA, which has already adopted a $100 million budget-balancing plan that includes significant fare hikes and service cuts. The bill also provides $2 million in inspection fees and $1.5 million in unspent snow and ice removal funds to the state’s various regional transit authorities to pay for preventative maintenance-related expenses.
The legislation also increases fines for fare evasion, and requires the MBTA t oissue a report on the cost of restoring weekend service on the Old Colony commuter rail line, as well as a promotional marketing plan to drive up ridership on the rail line.
As part of the funding package, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will have until Dec. 31 to develop a long-term funding strategy to deal with the MBTA’s ongoing fiscal difficulties as well as an estimated $20 billion backlog in state highway and bridge projects.
“We can no longer provide small fiscal bandages to our transportation problems,” Sen. Keenan said. “When the Legislature returns to session in January one of our first priorities must be to address the Commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure needs. Failing to do so will result in bigger MBTA budget deficits, and continued delays in repairing our aging roads and bridges.”
During debate, Sen. Keenan offered amendments designed to study whether the MBTA’s fare and fee structures are discouraging ridership and driving down revenues. One amendment would have required the MBTA to launch a pilot program examining whether reduced parking lot fees would help grow ridership; the other mandated an annual analysis of the cost of riding the commuter rail versus the cost of driving into Boston.
“For some towns in my district, monthly passes and station parking costs are so high that there is little financial incentive for commuters to leave the car behind and take public transportation,” Sen.Keenan said. “Part of the discussion must include the question of whether the MBTA’s fares are at appropriate levels.”
Sen. Keenan also proposed studying if assessments paid by cities and towns within the MBTA service area are appropriate, or whether the formulary should be adjusted. The amendments were not adopted.
The Senate had previously adopted, and Sen. Keenan strongly supported, legislation prohibiting future rail expansion projects – except those legally mandated – until the MBTA had identified how the projects would be funded without impacting current service levels. That legislation is part of ongoing House and Senate conference committee negotiations.
In order to balance the budget, the MBTA voted to raise fares on average 23%, which will generate $73 million in new revenues. The Board also voted to use $15 million in one-time revenues, including surplus snow and ice removal funds, the annual lease payment for the North Station garage, and savings from office space consolidation in the state transportation building.
In addition,the MBTA will save more than $10 million by switching MBTA employees into state-managed benefits programs, by restructuring fuel and power contracts to save $7 million, and by eliminating 51 positions to reduce its budget by another $1.8 million.