Massachusetts may be calling for more MBTA service and later hours on the T, but with another budget deficit ahead on the tracks, officials this week started discussing additional service cuts and another round of fare increases.
In a presentation with the MBTA’s Finance Subcommittee on Tuesday, Charles Planck, the T’s director of strategic initiatives, presented several hypothetical scenarios showing how the MBTA could close an estimated $120 million budget deficit, including shutting down bus services at 11 p.m., stopping Commuter Train services on the weekends, and raising the cost to ride the T by more than 30 percent.
“We have not made any decisions, but it’s obvious that it may be necessary to do that,” said Planck, referencing the possibility of implementing one of several plans that included fare increases, service cuts, or both.
Planck laid out several preliminary ideas for MBTA officials to mull over during the finance meeting at MassDOT’s transportation building in Boston on Tuesday.
Included in his package was a proposal to increase fares by 33 percent across the board, which would raise the cost of a Charlie Ticket from $2 per ride, to $2.60. It would also raise the cost to ride the bus by 50-cents.
The “All Fare Approach” would close the T’s anticipated budget gap in fiscal year 2014, which begins in July.
The MBTA is legally obligated to present a balanced budget to the state by April, according to officials from the transportation agency, months prior to the end of the current fiscal year.
To do that, Planck said it would require a “likely combination” of both cuts and fare increases.
“Given the realities related to the deficit, we need to consider our alternatives,” he said.
In Planck’s second proposed plan, the T would have the option of introducing a “half fare/half service reduction” approach.
That approach would bring in $65 million in new revenue by raising the fare by 15-percent, and $65 million in operating savings through service cuts, in order to close the budget gap.
Other service reduction scenarios put on the table during the meeting included eliminating the 30 least productive weekday bus routes, getting rid of all weekend Commuter Rail trains and reducing weekday service hours.
Planck also pitched putting an end to all weekday heavy and light rail service, which includes the Red, Green, Orange and Blue lines, after 11 p.m., and hacking all weekend MBTA service.
That plan, however, Planck said, would be “an ineffective approach” to closing the budget gap and would “cost about 200 MBTA jobs in that situation.”
If a decision is made to go forward with any of the fare increase and service reduction options put forth by Planck, the MBTA would have to have an analysis of the impacts to revenue and a detailed look at environmental impacts by June.
Much like last year when fares went up, there would be six to eight weeks worth of public hearings, giving riders a chance to speak out against the proposed changes.
The MBTA board would then review the recommended service cuts and fare increases in September, and vote on a plan from there.
“There are some tough decisions that are going to have to be made,” said MassDOT Board member John Jenkins.
The MBTA’s new general manager, Dr. Beverly Scott, said “everything is on the table.”
“We are hoping for the best but we have to plan for what is in front of us,” said Scott.
Officials said attention went towards working on long-term solutions this year, with specific focus on Governor Deval Patrick’s transportation funding plan, which was presented in January.
Earlier this year, Patrick called for an array of increased tax options to help fund the Massachusetts transportation system.
MBTA officials assumed the governor’s plan would be active, but if it gets the “thumbs down” from the State Legislature then the T will be behind where they thought they would be in terms of plans to close the budget gap.
Without new revenue sources, the MassDOT Board of Directors will be forced to follow in the footsteps of last year’s fiasco, cutting MBTA services, while simultaneously raising fares, all in an effort to close a pending budget gap in the next fiscal year.
“People are going to feel some pain and we don’t know what the legislature is going to do,” said board member Alan MacDonald. “We have to put a placeholder plan in place not knowing what relief we are going to get from the legislature, and unfortunately, we have to plan that we aren’t going to get any [help].”