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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fare deal?

The MBTA Advisory Board appears to have come up with a compromise everyone can live with to avoid a fare hike and service cuts. But the key questions are: will they and for how long.

A 25 percent fare hike, parceling out costs to other agencies and turning to surcharges and burden-sharing, seems a far better solution than fare hikes that could top 40 percent at the same time service is slashed or eliminated.

But the plan still has the feel of a stop-gap solution that does not address long-term issues, like resolving the debt burden the Legislature placed onto the T as part of the Big Dig bailout.

The Advisory Board proposal targets users who place a heavy strain on the system -- colleges, universities and fans who attend events at the Garden and Fenway Park. A modest ticket surcharge to defray the cost of service to Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and concert fans seems reasonable, despite the inevitable howls of protest.

Same with asking colleges and universities whose students jam up cars, often so tightly they get waved on for free on the Green Line, to pony up a convenience fee. And there is something to be said for asking organizations with stations named for them to pay what are in effect naming rights.

The proposals -- that also include other agencies taking over police and ferry operations -- would generate just about enough to cover the looming $161 million shortfall. But Advisory Board director Paul Regan also hits its major weakness:
"This doesn’t fix the T, but we want to respond to everything that our members have heard about the needs of the system and how important it is to not have service cuts. If people go after these ideas with some enthusiasm and some vigor, we can get through fiscal 2013 without a major service cut.”
In other words, we'll we right back here a year from now dealing with a fiscal 2014 problem -- unless of course the economy improves enough so that the T's portion of the sales tax goes up, and riders don't abandon the system because of higher fares and a host of other what ifs.

It's long past time to deal with this long-standing problem with something approaching a permanent solution.

In the meantime, here's one other revenue-raising idea: charge an extra fare to anyone who takes up space in crowded aisles or empty seats with an overstuffed backpack. The revenue implications are impressive.

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