To the editor:
The MBTA would have you believe that its financial plight is one created out of fault of everyone but themselves. The only thing further from the truth is the notion that the MBTA’s passengers and Commonwealth’s taxpayers should feel the burden to correct the issue. I am not naïve enough to think that the MBTA should be able to operate without fare increases, but no increase should exceed 10% and no service that is so extensive should ever be in a position to consider such drastic cuts.
The MBTA’s initial fare and service proposals are proving to be the ultimate in high-ball negotiation tactics. I attended the open meeting at in January and commented about what such fare increases would mean to commuters: about a week’s worth of groceries each month and up to a month’s rent or mortgage over the course of the year. As grateful as I am to MBTA acting GM Jonathan Davis for standing in that extended meeting and others like it across the state, I am disappointed by the dog and pony show that was really going on.
So what is the real cause for this deficit? Poor financial management at all levels of the MBTA. The MBTA proposal publicity notes that for eight consecutive years (2003-2010), there was an increasing deficit of anticipated tax revenue and that they now need to finish paying off a multi-billion dollar loan.They do not mention the millions of dollars that have been spent during that time to investigate the possibility of expanding services. During the 8 years that tax income was not as fruitful as planned, there was one modest fair increase and, from what I remember, no serious effort to cut costs or generate additional revenue. At a number of these hearings hosted by the MBTA, customers lined up to point out how much revenue is lost by fares being skipped on subway lines or not even collected on commuter rail trains. I was one of the many that noted the MBTA services do not abide by schedules enough for us to be paying such a significant increase- especially when advertising spots on trains go unutilized and additional advertising potential is available. Since the meeting, I have made cost cutting and revenue generating suggestions to Mr. Davis via email with no response: increasing fines for skipped fares (currently $15), charging the “performers” in subway stations for a permit to use the space to collect money and to fine them accordingly when they do not have permits, reducing the number of coaches on off-peak hour and weekend trains to reduce energy costs- especially since a number of coaches are notallowed to be occupied on those trains.
A month after the hearing in Attleboro, the MBTA Advisory Board suddenly appeared with a proposal that would maintain current services while moving some of the costs to the state putting the burden on all taxpayers and bringing the fare increases down to 25%. For commuters using a monthly pass in Attleboro and South Attleboro, this is still nearly $60 per month that may be tough to come by for some families. More recently, an independent organization found extensive cases of fraud throughout the MBTA Ride program. While all of this is going on, nothing has changed; fares are still not being collected with the necessary consistency, advertising potential is still being wasted, trains with unused cars are still burning increasingly expensive energy, and money is being spent on the possibility of adding services the MBTA could not afford anyway.
This is not just an MBTA passenger issue; this is a taxpayer issue. At the January meeting, I did not ask the Legislators for their help in reducing the increase. I asked that they hold the MBTA responsible for this mess by not bailing them out and not letting them use their customers to bail them out. The MBTA made a drastic proposal in the hopes that everyone would come to the rescue. The fare increases account for the number of passengers that will be lost to become drivers on a daily basis. This means more drivers on the roads every day making already intense gridlock worse. Service cuts mean economic hits to Boston and cities like Attleboro that attract passengers from neighboring communities. Although I adamantly disagree with his thought that the increases are “not unreasonable,” I was glad to see in Friday’s article in the Sun Chronicle that Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalezpublicly said there is nothing the state can do for the MBTA. The state and the MBTA customers need to call MBTA’s bluff and do it soon!
The MBTA needs to stop looking to its customers and the taxpayers to take on this burden. They need to look in the mirror and make the changes that need to be made to create a reasonable increase plan- one that is not more than 10%- while maintaining all of its services. I encourage passengers and taxpayers alike to contact their legislators and demand that they do not fall for the MBTA’s negotiation tactics. Help them find a solution if necessary, but do not allow these increases to happen to us.