MBTA Fare Hikes: All You Need to Know

MBTA orange line(Photo via ThinkStock.)

The MBTA announced its plan to close its $160 million budget deficit for the upcoming year this morning and, though the authority’s proposal does little to address its crushing debt or debilitating long term problems, gosh darnit, for the time being, it looks like they did a pretty good job. Here are the big points:

  • • Effective on July 1, there will be an overall 23 percent fare increase.
  • • The cost of a ride on the T for CharlieCard holders will jump from $1.70 to $2.00.
  • • The cost of a ride on the bus will increase from $1.25 to $1.50.
  • • Four weekday bus routes will be eliminated and 14 others will have their schedules revised.
  • • Weekend service on the Greenbush, Needham, and Kingston/Plymouth commuter rail lines will be canceled.

All in all, this isn’t nearly as bad as the packages of fare hikes and service cuts the MBTA initially proposed back in January. The authority stayed away from any big service cuts and, as much as it stinks to have our fares raised, it was the first hike in five years and the T remains cheaper to ride than the subways in most major cities, including New York, Chicago, and LA. Here are a few other takeaway points:

  • • All those hearings on the proposed fare hikes and service cuts actually had a point. The overwhelming public sentiment is that people preferred paying more to losing service, and that was reflected in the MBTA’s proposal.
  • • Most news stories have focused so far on the increase in CharlieCard fares, but a clever little piece of this proposal is the much larger hike in CharlieTicket fares. Whereas CharlieCards will go from $1.70 to $2.00 for the T and $1.25 to $1.50 for the bus, CharlieTickets will go from $2.00 to $2.50 for the T and $1.50 to $2.00 for the bus. What’s the difference between a CharlieCard and a CharlieTicket? CharlieCards are the plastic ones you can just tap against the fare collector. CharlieTickets are the paper stubs that get spit out of the machines. Because CharlieCard fares are already lower, most locals have gone to the trouble of finding one (they often aren’t available inside of T stations and can be sort of annoying to track down).  CharlieTickets are used much more by tourists and out-of-towners, who don’t know to go to the 7-11 across the street from the station to get a plastic card. So essentially, we’re soaking tourists with a bigger fare increase. That’s good!
  • • The plan to close this year’s budget relies on an awful lot of one time revenue—$61 million worth from the MassDOT Motor Vehicle Inspection Trust Fund ($51 million), a MassDOT snow and ice surplus ($5 million, thank you Mother Nature), and the North Station Garage Lease Payment ($5 million). That’s great for this year, but damned if we won’t be right back in the same position next year. Between that money disappearing and the MBTA’s increasing debt service payments, the most ominous line of the MBTA’s press-release announcing the fare hikes this morning was that the authority is already running a $100 million deficit for next year. That’s not good!
  • • In other words, what the MBTA proposed this morning is a solid one year fix that does nothing to address the system’s bigger problems: namely, the over $5 billion in debt it carries (and the huge debt service costs that comes with it) and its $3 billion maintenance backlog. At a press-conference this morning, the state’s Secretary of Transportation, Richard Davey, acknowledged that. When I talked to him a few weeks ago, he intimated that a plan for a long-term solution would be forthcoming once the MBTA just got through this year. Ok, we’re through this year now. Like I said then, this is an issue crying out for leadership from Governor Deval Patrick. He’s scheduled to speak on the fare hikes later today, so that’ll be as good a time as any to start us on a course toward the meaningful reform we need to save the MBTA from falling into total disrepair and irrelevancy (not an overstatement).

In the meantime, remember, it could always be worse. At least they didn’t institute an exit fare. And with that, we’ll let the Kingston Trio play us out…