MBTA Fallout

Today’s Globe printed a follow up story on the potential fare increases and service cutbacks at the T, and the story ran the gamut from outraged users to legislators saying that the T would not be getting the 6 cents that the Governor’s gas tax proposal would give them, leaving a hole of as yet undetermined magnitude. Marc Draisen talked of the negative impact of these service cuts on Greater Boston.

Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said the MBTA plan “would be nothing short of a disaster for the Greater Boston area.”

He estimated that the reduction in services would result in 25 million new automobile trips per year with 119 million additional miles traveled and 6 million extra gallons of gas consumed.

“We’re just going in completely the wrong direction,” Draisen said. “If there has ever been a time to encourage people to get on public transit, this is it.”

But Draisen’s point, while no doubt correct, points to the ongoing political problems with the Governor’s gas tax proposal. The perceived geographic inequity still has a political impact, despite the Governor making strong efforts to deal with that perception through his proposal. Senator Steve Baddour talked about that political problem in the Globe, and pretty much threw cold water on hopes of a state rescue.

“That’s the legislative conundrum,” said Senator Steven A. Baddour, a Methuen Democrat and chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation. “You have folks in Western Mass. and different parts of the state, and they have a different view on how much is needed to fund the MBTA. There is no easy solution.”

He said the news about the MBTA reductions would have little bearing on the debate at the State House, at least for now.

“The whole world is laying people off and is going through difficult financial times,” he said. “The MBTA needs to be a part of that. . . . If that means layoffs or reductions in services, so be it.”

That is some pretty tough talk, and does not portend well for the Governor’s gas tax proposal. Senator Baddour’s House counterpart Joseph Wagoner also weighed in, and appeared to throw as much cold water on the T as Baddour did.

“Unlike the federal government, we can’t print money and try to spend our way out of it,” said Representative Joseph F. Wagner, a Chicopee Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation. “We have an obligation to balance our budget and we’re going to have to make difficult decisions, including on transportation.”

Maybe the mantra should be changed to “reform before very little revenue”. And Secretary Aloisi, who has not been heard from too much lately, seems to have gotten in trouble again with the Senate President. President Therese Murray expressed “dismay” that she did not have advance notice of the T internal document leaked to the Globe.

Senate President Therese Murray was caught off guard yesterday by the news, and appeared frustrated that she was not briefed.

“I just think it’s odd that we were not given this information,” Murray said in an interview. “I was there all day yesterday, I’ve been there all week. And I pick it up and read it in the paper? They do have meetings, there is a secretary who oversees those meetings. Wouldn’t someone come and talk to us about this?”

Secretary Aloisi first gets in trouble for speaking, and now gets in trouble for not speaking. Tough couple of months. And the Secretary did a blog posting that addressed the issues at the T. (No, it was not at Blue Mass Group!) The below is from the Secretary’s transportation blog.

As you read or hear about possible financial scenarios and options for closing the MBTA’s $160 million budget deficit, it is important to remember that no decisions have been made about service reductions or fare increases.

The T staff brought forward to the board at a public meeting one month ago a budget for the fiscal year beginning in July 2009 that includes the projected deficit and shows the T’s extraordinarily difficult budget circumstance. Just one example is the cost of the principal and interest payments as the bills come due on $5.2 billion in Big Dig-related debt. Those debt payments next year will increase by $77 million, and debt payments overall consume 30% of T revenues.

Despite this daunting financial challenge, as Chairman of the MBTA board and your Transportation Secretary I am committed to reviewing every available option to cut costs and close the gap. Right now the MBTA is busy analyzing a full range of options that may or may not include service cuts. But it is too early to tell since no formal set of options has been presented to me.

At the same time, Governor Patrick ‘s Transportation and Economic Security Plan calls for fundamental reforms in transportation and in pension benefits, including ending the “23 and out” retirement benefit at the T. The House and Senate have passed reform bills and will soon meet to hammer out the differences. The Governor has also said that only after comprehensive and meaningful reforms are in place should we consider using additional gas tax revenues to avoid service reductions and fare increases at the T.

As these ideas are considered in the coming weeks and months, I want to assure T riders that any decisions about services and fares will be made only after a complete and transparent public review process. Whether they are using the T to get to work, school or to a doctor’s appointment millions of our state’s residents depend on the T as a critical transportation service. I am committed to ensuring that the MBTA undertakes a robust civic engagement process before any decisions are reached.

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