MBTA Eyes Cuts To Commuter Rail And Handicapped RIDE To Balance Budget

March 13, 2017

The cash-strapped MBTA might suspend weekend commuter rail service for a year in order to pay for needed repairs. In addition, scaling back the RIDE –used by the elderly and handicapped – to the minimum level required by federal regulations is also under consideration.

MBTA staff under Gov. Charlie Baker have a plan to completely balance the MBTA's operating budget, eliminating a $50 million dollar deficit and dedicating the funds to badly-needed improvement projects.

The savings' come with a catch. To zero-out the budget deficit, the T says they'll need to totally eliminate the underused weekend Commuter Rail Service for one year and figure out a way to operate it more efficiently after that.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the service cuts would be hard, but necessary for the T to "recommit" more state tax funds to fixing the maintenance backlog instead of on annual operations.

"The only sustainable way to ensure that the T can make investments in service is to make those investments out of the recurring revenue that's available to it," Pollack said.

House Transportation Chairman William Straus (D-Mattapoisett) told WGBH News he thinks Baker's team's move is to open a discussion about the difference in ridership between the weekend Commuter Rail and weekday service.

"This makes sense to make it clear, and as I say, start that discussion out there, especially for those on the most subsidized lines in terms of weekend service," Straus said.

Straus wants the MBTA to be clear about its capital needs, and says that if it needs the Legislature to provide more to cover both operations and capital projects, it should inform the public.

"If you don't have the revenue to do both, you let the public know," Straus said.

"What it really raises is, are we providing enough for the capital needs of our transportation system and so I don't necessarily agree that one, there is a structural deficit at the T," Straus said. The Legislature has annually appropriated $187 million a year to cover the T's costs, with any surplus going towards capital projects.

Last week, the T floated the idea of outsourcing bus maintenance services.

In another budgetary move, General Manager Brian Shortsleeve said the T could cut $7 million dollars by scaling back to only what it's legally obligated to provide under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Objecting to this approach was Kathy Paul, a RIDE user and activist with the Massachusetts Senior Action Council:

"We were shocked to learn that once again the MBTA is proposing the elimination of premium service for the RIDE," said Paul. "That would effect about 8,000 people and threaten over 200,000 trips. Well shame on you, MBTA"

All of these service adjustments are part of a proposal to close the T's $42 million dollar operating deficit and invest more state funds in repair projects.

The budget plans and service cuts will have to be approved by the T's control board.

 


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