On June 18th, the State Legislature passed the FY 2010 Budget and sent it to Governor Deval Patrick for his approval. The Budget calls for an increase of the state sales tax to 6.25% generating an additional $900 million per year.
Out of this amount, the Legislature is allocating only $275 million towards transportation as a whole with only about $160 million going specifically to the MBTA to address its financial crisis. In these next 24-48 hours, Governor Patrick will have to make his decision on the budget and make some very difficult choices that will affect the future of public transportation in the Commonwealth.
Everyone who has examined this issue – legislators, MBTA officials, community groups, advocacy organizations, environmentalists and the business community – acknowledge that the $160 million is not adequate.
While I would not trivialize the complexities surrounding our state transportation woes, I do believe that the State Legislature and the Governor have the power to reach a better solution. As an elected official in Boston, I felt that it was critical to advocate on behalf of the city’s residents and those who cannot advocate for themselves.
That is why I sent a letter to the Governor that urges him to shore up our public transportation system and add additional monies for the MBTA. I wanted to take a moment to share with you this letter and will certainly let you know if I do receive any kind of response.
Dear Governor Patrick,
As you make final reviews to the state’s FY2010 budget, I urge you to make the necessary amendments to ensure that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will not have to raise fares or cut services and also to ensure that the MBTA Advisory Board does not lose its current powers. At a time when our constituents are facing layoffs and other harsh realities of the economic downturn, we cannot support policies that impose additional burdens on them.
When I decided to run for Mayor, I pledged to myself and the people of Boston that I would run a different type of campaign – a campaign that solicited the ideas and concerns of residents. My visits across the city and into each neighborhood have afforded me a greater understanding of the economic challenges they face and the strategies they have employed to tighten their belts and make ends meet. They have shared with me their concerns over increased taxes and stagnant wages.
Their economic concerns also extend to the potential reduction of MBTA services and increase in MBTA fares. The state’s own Transportation Secretary, James A. Aloisi Jr, has publicly indicated that despite the $160 million included in the FY10 state budget, the MBTA will still need to raise fares 15 to 20 percent and possibly trim services due to overwhelming debt. Implementing such a fee hike would be the fourth fare increase imposed on MBTA riders in the last 8 years and would have a major impact on hundreds of thousands of Bostonians who are low-income and transit-dependent.
I would be remiss not to acknowledge that the potential fare increase and reduced service will also adversely affect the state’s ability to meet its carbon emission reduction goals. By making the MBTA services less convenient and affordable, more residents will once again have to rely on their cars as the vehicle of choice and ultimately create more harmful pollution and congestion.
Equally as important as preserving affordable access to public transportation is maintaining the powers of the MBTA Advisory Board who have traditionally provided an appropriate level of oversight and consumer advocacy trusted by riders. In the wake of the scandals that have come to light over the last few years and the corresponding outcries for greater transparency, we should make sure that the public continues to have a Board that, at minimum, questions suspect tactics to fill budget gaps on the backs of residents and riders.
On behalf of Boston residents, commuters and taxpayers, I ask you to send back the Legislature a budget that restores the powers of the Advisory Board and makes greater investment in the state’s public transportation system so that service cuts and increased fares can be avoided.
Michael F. Flaherty
Boston At-Large City Councilor
In the meantime, I welcome your feedback on this issue, and would like to know how you think we can improve the lifeline of our city; the MBTA.
An obvious service improvement is the extension of MBTA operation hours. Many residents work the night shift, and have expressed a desire for public transportation to and from work.
Many of these people do not feel safe traveling by themselves late at night, so it is important that we take steps to resolve this issue. Other cities have instituted late night train services with a slight fare increase. Would you be willing to pay a service fee for T service until 2:30 or 3:00 am? Do you feel that offering this service would be worthwhile, and ultimately beneficial to the people of Boston?
Also, how do you think we could use the MBTA to help facilitate the transportation of our city’s student population? Our school transportation budget is nearly $80 million and I believe there is a way to utilize the existing public transportation infrastructure to reduce cost and be more efficient for our students.
-Michael Flaherty, Candidate for Mayor of Boston