Planning Council: MBTA Cuts Will Damage Economy and Environment
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council is speaking out against proposed T service cuts and fare hikes.
The following was submitted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. It does not reflect the views of Patch:
The MBTA faces a structural fiscal crisis, the immediate symptom of which is a $161 million gap in the Fiscal 2013 budget. Despite exhaustive efforts to reduce its operating budget, the MBTA is left with only two tools to resolve the crisis: fare increases and service cuts.
In response to next year’s shortfall, the MBTA has proposed two scenarios that, if implemented, will have negative repercussions for many years. Both scenarios include elimination of many bus routes, all ferries, and commuter rail service after 10 pm and on weekends. Scenario 1 would raise fares by 43%, while Scenario 2 combines a somewhat smaller fare increase (35%) with drastic cuts to bus service. Neither scenario is acceptable.
These proposed service cuts and fare increases will financially burden today’s commuters, worsen traffic congestion, damage the environment, and impede economic growth for years to come. They will disproportionately harm households that depend on public transit as their major or sole means of transportation: the young, the old, people with disabilities, and families of modest means.
- Fare increases and service cuts will cause ridership to decline. The scenarios result in an annual ridership loss of up to 16% (64 million trips per year), as transit riders switch to other modes because of increased costs or loss of service. This will reverse the recent positive trend of record high levels of ridership, and will result in less-efficient service and less revenue for the MBTA.
- Declining transit ridership will increase traffic congestion. Total daily auto miles traveled will increase by 431,000 miles under Scenario 1 and 626,000 miles under Scenario 2 – the equivalent of 55,000 and 92,000i more cars on the road each day, respectively. That means more congestion, lost productivity for workers sitting in traffic, less time spent with families, and reduced access to jobs. Cuts to suburban bus service, commuter rail, and ferries will have a particularly severe impact on traffic congestion along I-93, I-90, Route 1, Route 3, and Route 2 as many commuters shift from the train, suburban bus, and express bus services to the single occupancy vehicle.
- Service cuts will hurt our struggling economy. Under both scenarios, many businesses that currently have access to transit will lose MBTA service. Under Scenario 1, 4,400 businesses and 78,000 workers will lose all MBTA service; under Scenario 2, a staggering 340,000 workers will lose transit access to jobs at 27,000 businesses.ii Businesses will suffer as their workers’ commutes become more difficult, expensive, and unpredictable. Elimination of evening and weekend commuter rail will particularly impact some of our region’s major employers and attractions, such as hospitals, museums, theaters, and restaurants.
- Service cuts will drive up the cost of living. Transit commuters will find it harder (or impossible) to get to work, forcing them to spend more money (if they have it) on car commuting, or else lose their job. Under Scenario 1, 108,000 people (and an estimated 7,100 transit commuters) will lose transit access; under Scenario 2, nearly half a million people (including 44,000 transit commuters) will no longer be served by the MBTA.
- Declining ridership will increase air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions alone, the leading cause of global warming, will increase by approximately 50,000 tons per year, iv which is the equivalent of the carbon dioxide emitted annually by a small oil burning power plant.
- Service cuts may discourage new development projects near transit. There are currently more than 250 private-sector developments planned or proposed near subway and commuter rail stations, which collectively would create 36,000 housing units and space for 92,000 permanent jobs, not to mention thousands of construction jobs. Uncertainty about the access of these projects to transit may discourage developers, banks, and companies from investing in these job-creating projects.
The challenges facing the MBTA are real, and they require transformative solutions that will help to make the region more prosperous, more livable, and healthier.
- The entire transportation system needs adequate, sustainable funding. The MassDOT reform legislation enacted three years ago is saving significant taxpayer dollars. However, it was known at the time that the transportation network would need new revenue. The mantra when that bill was passed was “reform before revenue.” We have accomplished major, cost-saving reforms; now is the time for revenue. Governor Patrick and the Legislature should continue the work they started three years ago, providing adequate resources not only for the MBTA, but also for Regional Transit Authorities throughout the state, as well as roadways, bike paths, sidewalks and all aspects of our transportation system.
- The T needs a long-term solution that addresses its $5.5 billion debt. A quarter of the MBTA’s operating budget every year goes to debt service payments – an amount nearly equivalent to what the T collects in fares. The MBTA’s debt load is higher than that of any other transit system in the nation.vi Failure to solve this structural problem will force even more draconian fare increases and service cuts in the years ahead as debt payments rise. If the MBTA balances its budget for Fiscal 2013but no structural solution is found, we will be in the very same predicament a year from now, with a predicted Fiscal 2014 budget deficit of at least $40 million caused by ever-increasing debt service costs.
- When the Fiscal 2013 state budget is adopted this spring, the Legislature and Governor Patrick need to help plug part of the MBTA’s structural deficit. MAPC supports a range of strategies to provide adequate revenue for the MBTA and the entire transportation system, which include direct support from the state budget, expanding tolls on limited-access highways, introducing “vehicle miles traveled” fees that charge drivers based on how many miles they drive annually, raising the state’s gas tax (which last saw in increase more than 20 years ago), or increasing vehicle registration fees among others. We don’t have to take all these steps, but we need to take enough to plug the growing gap in the state’s transportation budget.
- Massport should help support transit services that bring customers to Logan Airport. Part of the MBTA costs for operating the ferries and Silver Line services to Logan Airport should be supported by Massport.
- T riders will certainly have to pay more, but the proposed fare increases and service cuts are too deep. Regular, modest fare hikes every few years are more sensible than the large fare hikes that have been proposed.