T seeks to boost fares, cut service

The MBTA is seeking to plug a budget hole by raising fares and cutting service—including weekend E Line subway/streetcar trips and most of the JP Loop bus service. The highest-ridership lines in Jamaica Plain—the Orange Line subway and the Route 39 bus—would be untouched.

A meeting about the already controversial proposal is set for Feb. 1 at the Hennigan Community Center. [See JP Agenda listing.]

The MBTA’s own proposal says that fare hikes up to 43 percent and service cuts would “result in worse overall access to jobs, healthcare and educational opportunities.” But state law requires the MBTA to balance its budget, which has a $161 million gap that has to be filled by July 1, the beginning of fiscal year 2013.

Unless state legislators fill the hole with funds from somewhere else—as they did in 2009—the MBTA has no other choices, it says.

Local leaders, including state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, are urging residents to attend the meeting and speak out about the plan.

“That’s how we stopped [E Line cuts] before,” said Arthur Craffey, a political organizer of seniors, including residents of homes served by the E Line and the Route 48 JP Loop bus.

While the MBTA is presenting its proposal as necessary, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said that “public opinion will play a critical role in this process.”

“I’m wholesale opposed to fare increases and service cuts,” said local state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz. “We need a much more systemic solution.”

Chang-Díaz noted that a huge chunk of the MBTA’s budget goes to its debt, suggesting an increased gasoline tax or other revenue could be a solution. “Putting that cost on the back of people who are entirely dependent on public transit…is obviously wrong-headed,” she said.

Local state Rep. Russell Holmes told the Gazette that he wants to see “transparency” in the proposal, and that the financial solution should be targeted to the correct routes, not “unilaterally across the board.”

The MBTA is proposing two plans, or “scenarios,” that have different combinations of fare hikes and service cuts. The MBTA cannot only raise fares or only cut service, because the results would be too extreme and scare away riders, the MBTA said. The proposal already would cause sharp losses in ridership.

Scenario 1 has a 43 percent fare hike. That would make a subway ride $2.40 and a bus ride $1.75. Scenario 2 has a 35 percent fare hike: $2.25 for the subway and $1.50 for the bus. It would be the MBTA’s first fare hike since 2007.

Both scenarios make the same major cuts in JP. No more weekend service on the Green Line E branch, which runs on S. Huntington Avenue to Heath Street. And the JP Loop bus would only run on Sundays. The JP Loop runs on side streets between Monument and Jackson Squares, particularly serving residents of the 125 Amory Street public housing building for seniors and people with disabilities. The bus route has survived controversial cuts in recent years after community protests.

Both scenarios also cut weekend service on all commuter rail lines, including the Needham Line service at Forest Hills Station. And the two scenarios either kill or reduce service on the Route 37 bus.

Scenario 2 would kill the Route 40 bus and cut service to Sundays-only on six other routes: 14, 29, 38, 50 and 51, along with the JP Loop.

The MBTA is also proposing high fare increases—up to 500 percent—for its RIDE program, which provides door-to-door motor vehicle rides for registered people with disabilities. Savings would come by pricing some people out of that service, according to an MBTA report.

All other local rail and bus lines would be untouched. Bus stop improvements for the heavily used Route 39 are still on schedule for construction this year, according to Pesaturo.

Overall, the proposal focuses service cuts on bus routes. The E Line is one of only two Boston rail lines facing cuts, with the other being Mattapan’s streetcar. Service cuts are focused on routes with a higher per-rider cost, according to the MBTA.

The MBTA is projected to have annual budget deficits, getting higher as the years pass, through fiscal year 2016, according to Pesaturo. But it is too soon to say whether more fare hikes or service cuts will be proposed next year, he said. This year’s budget fix will have an impact on that decision, he said.

For more information on the plan, see mbta.com. Written comments are being accepted at [email protected] or Fare Proposal, 10 Park Plaze, Suite 3910, Boston, MA 02116.

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