Unreliable transit service that doesn’t even run every day. Funding that disappears to pay someone else’s debt. The prospect of transportation users paying far more for little or no benefit.
It sounds like the MBTA’s hated plan to cut service and boost fares. But it’s actually a description of what rural Massachusetts faces if we boost the gas tax to bail out the T.
It’s easy to look out the window of the 39 bus to see Land Rovers and Lexuses tooling around the Back Bay and call for a gas tax boost. But the fact is, the gas tax would slam poor and working-class drivers just the same as the T fare increase would slam poor and working-class riders. Both are regressive fees (and so, arguably, is the sales tax that already funds the T).
The proposal to boost the gas tax, but to direct proceeds to Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs), makes a lot of sense. The future T riders are facing is harsh, but many of the rural citizens paying for it an even harsher reality: no system at all.
Rural areas are not suitable for public transit on an MBTA scale, and the entire state benefits greatly from Greater Boston’s economy. But there are clear issues of unfairness here. If we’re honest about it, most of us Bostonians think rarely about the rest of the state, and probably never even heard of RTAs.
In fact, Boston’s inner-city T riders and the Berkshires’ rural car-drivers are not very different in their transit challenges. This is a commonwealth, and we have more in common than we think. Our financial solutions should keep us together, too.