Preserving Public Transportation: A Guest Op-Ed by Sen. Clark

Preserving Public Transportation
by Senator Katherine Clark

It is clear that our current system of funding and operating our public transportation network is inadequate and untenable.  The MBTA recently projected a $161 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, with structural deficits projected to grow through 2016 and beyond.

According to the T, these deficits are the result of increased operating costs, debt payments, and lower-than-projected sales tax revenue.  Dedicating a portion of the state sales tax to the T’s operations was a decision made by the legislature in 2009 to head-off massive service cuts at that time.  However, due to higher costs and the continued economic recession, the problems have persisted.

To address its massive shortfall and restore the T to sound financial footing, the MBTA has put forth two scenarios reflecting a combination of fare increases and service cuts.  Many of the proposed service cuts in our district – particularly to bus lines – are deeply concerning and would severely impact public transportation options for commuters, students and seniors.  And the proposed fare increases for all services, including the commuter rail, would come at a particularly difficult time for many people still recovering from job loss and the recession.

Neither devastating service cuts nor massive fare hikes is the answer.  This is a structural problem decades in the making that demands an innovative, comprehensive solution.

Adequately addressing our public transportation needs is a community-wide issue. Public transportation is critical to our regional economic development, to job creation, and to our collective effort to reduce traffic congestion and pollution in our communities.  And we cannot afford a patchwork solution.

We need a long-term, comprehensive plan to support a public transit system with sufficient capital to keep fares reasonable, expand routes, and improve services.

In short, this is an investment we must make.  But there’s no easy solution.  Instead, we will have to make some tough decisions and consider innovative ways to bring the T to an efficient operational model.  I am prepared to look at all options and to take the time to do it right. Proposals for open highway tolling, regionally based revenues, gas tax increases, increased fares and service cuts have all been suggested.

We need to work together to develop a true long term solution.  Please contact me with your thoughts on this important issue.  And, as this debate continues, I encourage all those who are interested to attend a public forum hosted by the MBTA in Malden on February 16, 6:00 pm at the City Council Chambers.

We also have requested additional public meetings with MBTA officials in our district, and I will keep you updated on the scheduling of those events.

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