Lost revenue from low T fares must be recouped – Boston Herald


Posted: March 1, 2020 at 11:46 am

For those questioning how free for all policies espoused by progressive leaders on and off the presidential campaign trail would work in the real world, look no further than our own MBTA.

As the Boston Herald reported, the Ts Fiscal and Management Control Board met in December, and among the items on its agenda (besides the transit agencys expanding budget deficit) was discussion of means-tested fares, as in discounts for low-income riders.

We cant keep talking about this for years and years, board Vice Chairwoman Monica Tibbits-Nutt said. The community has been patient.

For those struggling to get by, T fares can take a big chunk out of the day-to-day budget, and the call for relief is understandable.

The Ts been studying the logistics, and this week revealed that an income-based MBTA fares option could boost ridership substantially. The bad news: It would cost the agency tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

Much depends on who would qualify for the lower fares, depending on where the income threshold would be set. Letting those who earn twice the federal poverty level ($26,200 for a family of four) qualify would bring in roughly 50,000 to 90,000 new commuters to the bus and subway every year, MBTA Deputy Director of Policy and Strategic Planning Lynsey Heffernan told the FMCB.

And those riders would cause the T to forgo between $23.3 million and $42.3 million in revenue each year.

The MBTA is spending on a lot of things, such as increased inspections and quality-control measures, in the wake of last years devastating report by a safety review panel. At the December meeting, the T said its budget was likely to run a $42.2 million deficit. Thats with riders paying their regular fares.

Gov. Charlie Bakers $18 billion transportation bond bill, meanwhile, has moved before the House Ways and Means Committee. Among the features: money for MBTA improvements, regional transit authority electrification and additional funding for the South Coast Rail and Green Line Extension projects, already underway.

The MBTA needs to make safety improvements, finish rail and subway projects and advance transportation options for Bay Staters outside of the Greater Boston area. That takes money, and Baker has put together a plan for borrowing it.

The House is rolling out its own transportation plan, one that may include a gas tax.

Inevitably, the proposal to institute an income-based MBTA fare system and lose revenue collides with efforts to borrow or raise revenue to maintain and bolster safety and advance capital improvements.

Which brings us to a key flaw in so many free for all proposals: There are many needs to be met, all of them come with costs, and revenue is not in inexhaustible supply.

Does one halt plans for regional transit authorities to pay for low-income fares in Greater Boston? Or put new buses and trains on hold, despite the rise in ridership such a fare program would initiate?And as many of the capital improvements are under the aegis of helping the environment by getting public transportation to more people, does one dial back the green agenda to assist low-income residents?

Or will someone hit the default switch and call for a tax hike to cover the tab? It takes little imagination to envision the reaction to that.

In the real world, even reducing costs can come at a high price, and when resources have to stretch to cover many needs, triage is a crucial part of the decision-making process.

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Lost revenue from low T fares must be recouped - Boston Herald

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