T to raise fares, trim Green Line

The MBTA plans an overall 23 percent fare increase and will eliminate weekend Green Line streetcar service between Brigham Circle and Heath Street, following months of controversy about the T’s sorry financial state.

The T also will kill the Route 48 “JP Loop” bus that serves the 125 Amory Street residence for seniors and people with disabilities.

Local leaders who protested the T service cuts in recent public meetings expressed concern about the final plan to the Gazette this week.

“I’m disappointed. We’re losing crucial services in our district,” said state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, noting that Jamaica Plain is among the neighborhoods most impacted by the cuts.

“It’s going to be a real hardship for people who depend on it,” said state Rep. Liz Malia about the Route 48 bus, which has worked to save several times before. She acknowledged it is “underutilized” and said that ideas to replace it with a shuttle bus have been unsuccessful so far.

Occupy JP, a local version of the Occupy Wall Street movement, issued a statement opposing the plan and calling for the state to take over the T’s enormous debt and to require corporations and large nonprofit institutions served by the T to fund it directly. Occupy JP also supported Occupy Boston’s ongoing “Camp Charlie” protest at the State House, which similarly calls for no cuts or fare hikes and demands that legislators take immediate action. Occupy Boston includes several JP residents among its prominent members.

Originally facing a $185 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2013, the MBTA was able to hack that down to an $84 million gap with one-time savings and revenue, though State House approval is still required. That means its fare boost can be less drastic. Original plans called for halting Green Line service entirely on the weekends.

The MBTA is still facing a whopping $5 billion debt that will cause more budget gaps for years to come unless some type of long-term solution is created.

“T finances are a profound mess,” Sánchez said. But, asked if state legislators have had progress on discussing specific solutions, he said, “No. Not at all.”

One idea is raising the state gasoline tax and directing the proceeds to various regional transit authorities, including the MBTA. But it is unclear if that would raise enough revenue, Sánchez said. A proposal to shift a chunk of T debt to the general state accounts was a no-go, he added.

“We need to restructure the debt, but we also need a comprehensive, long-term plan,” said Malia. “I don’t have a lot of faith in our current administration that we’re going to do it.”

Malia also did not express confidence in the State House’s response. “As a legislature, we’ve ducked it,” she said. “Every time we get in a jam, we do a short-term solution.”

“I support us looking at all broad-based revenues…including [raising] the income tax,” Sánchez said. He added that State House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a recent budget meeting that the House will work on crafting some type of T budget solution within the next several months, before the current term ends.

Malia said the solution should address transportation needs across the state and not just in Boston.

Fare boosts and service cuts were widely criticized by thousands of people in public meetings, including one in February at the Hennigan School.

The budget document is available online at mbta.com.

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