Lynners to suffer under T budget fix

January 4, 2012
By Sara Brown/The Daily Item

Lynners may find themselves out of several rapid transit options if either of two proposals the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority revealed Tuesday to close its projected $161 million budget gap gains approval.

Riders system-wide face fare hikes as high as 43 percent along with service cuts which, most importantly for locals, would include the elimination of commuter rail service on weekends and the end of ferry service in Boston Harbor.

Although state funding has been put forward in several stages, the Lynn Ferry project remains in its nascent stage and would fall victim in both proposals floated by T officials.

Weekend train service on the Newburyport-Rockport Line, which makes 13 stops inbound and outbound throughout each Saturday and Sunday at the Lynn, Swampscott and Salem stations, would also be cut under both plans

Parking costs at MBTA garage and parking lots locally and system-wide may also increase 20 to 28 percent.

State transportation officials unveiled two possible scenarios at its finance committee meeting of the MBTA Board of Directors. The T has not had a fare hike in five years.

Under one scenario, a bus ride could jump from $1.25 to $1.75 while a subway ride could jump from $1.70 to $2.40 for passengers holding automated CharlieCards.

Under a second scenario, fare increases would rise by a more modest 35 percent — $1.50 for a bus ride and $2.25 for subway — but service cuts would be more extensive.

“Neither choice is appealing to the MBTA, and we know it won’t be appealing to our riders,” said Charles Planck, senior director of strategic initiatives for the agency, in outlining the options to the panel.

Economic Development and Industrial Corporation of Lynn Executive Director Jim Cowdell is not in favor of the plans. “Obviously, anything that hurts the ferry we are opposed to,” he said.

Officials said they planned to hold 20 public hearings in the coming months before announcing any final decisions. Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey suggested that the final outcome could be a combination of the two scenarios and said officials were still open to considering other proposals, such as off-peak fares that encourage riders to use the T outside of rush hour.

He acknowledged the impact the changes would have on riders.

“These aren’t statistics and money. These are people,” Davey said. “These are customers who rely heavily on the MBTA to get to homes, schools, hospitals and we’re very aware of that,” he said.

Cowdell is confident that the MBTA will not follow through with the plan. “It is all at the very beginning stages right now. These are typical of plans of this sort,” Cowdell said. “I am sure cooler heads will prevail.” He also said he plans on attending at least one of the public meetings.

Lynn resident Rosamond Caisse agrees with Cowdell. “That would be horrible,” she told the Item Tuesday evening while waiting for the commuter rail. “So many people use the commuter rail on the weekends.”

Caisse uses the commuter rail four times a week from Lynn to Beverly to attend classes. “I feel like the commuter rail already doesn’t run as often as it should.”

She is also worried about the increase in fares. “It’s already so expensive,” Caisse said. “In these times, when prices go up, it makes it harder on everyday people.”

Mike Lopez said he uses the commuter rail four to five days a week and often on the weekends to get to work in Boston. “I don’t know how I will get to work if they did that,” he said. “I mean, I wouldn’t be in favor of raising the prices but at least do that before you shut the whole thing down.”

In determining service cuts, officials said they tried to identify routes and services with the lowest ridership, so as to impact the fewest number of customers.

Under the proposal calling for a 43 percent fare hike, the T would eliminate 26 percent of existing bus route miles but, by focusing on routes with low ridership, Planck said 98 percent of current bus riders would retain their current service.

Under the plan calling for the lower 35 percent fare hike, the impact on bus routes would be more dramatic — eliminating 78 percent of current mileage while protecting 76 percent of current passengers.

Both plans would also impact seniors and students who enjoy discounts on MBTA service. Those discounts would go from the current 33 percent to 50 percent of base fares.

Prices for the RIDE, a service for disabled passengers, would increase from the current $2 to $3 under one scenario and to $4.50 for the other. Some users of the RIDE who live outside the Greater Boston area would have to pay as much as $12 for the service under one of the proposals.

The elimination of weekend commuter rail service would affect suburban residents who use the trains to come into the city on weekends for sporting events or other entertainment. But officials said they believed there were other transportation alternatives, such as parking at an MBTA station outside the city and taking a subway into town.

Davey and MBTA officials said they would continue to look for additional cost savings but added that it was unlikely the T could expect any additional funding from the Legislature given the state’s overall fiscal situation. He also ruled out refinancing the T’s $5.5 billion in debt, a tactic used to stave off fare hikes in the past.

“We’re not putting on the table any imprudent financing of debt, which in part is why the T is in this mess in the first place,” he said.

(Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.)



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