Murray said any action by the Legislature would likely not be enough to prevent a fare increase and that it would be a precursor to a longer-term transportation financing solution to support the MBTA, roads and bridges, regional bus systems, and others transportation infrastructure. Many lawmakers represent communities not served by the MBTA but with other unmet transportation needs.
After passing a transportation reform law in 2009 during a debate lawmakers framed around a "reform before revenue" approach, legislative leaders and Gov. Deval Patrick have not come up with any revenue proposals for the transportation system, despite acknowledging major funding gaps that won't be erased by reform initiatives alone. They've also warned that federal funding could be in jeopardy, the result of a Congress increasingly focused on spending cuts and deficit reduction.
Recently, some lawmakers have clamored for a solution to the MBTA's fiscal woes, worrying that constituents in the 175 communities served by the MBTA would either be forced back into their cars - worsening air quality and clogging roads - or cut off from access to their jobs altogether.
The discussion of fare hikes and service cuts comes at the same time the T has boasted 12 straight months of growth in ridership. T officials announced this week that January rides increased 10.2 percent over the same months a year earlier, averaging 1.271 million trips per day. Officials credit higher fuel prices and an unseasonably warm winter for the increase, as well as declining unemployment. The agency saw increased ridership on all modes of transportation, including a 15.9 percent surge on the commuter boat, which would lose its entire state subsidy under the T's budget proposal.
The co-chairs of the Legislature's Transportation Committee have been non-committal about whether they intend to act to assist the MBTA, instead speaking generally and without specifics to the need for a long-term solution for statewide transportation finance woes, one they say likely won't materialize until next year.
The Legislature has a long history of assisting with the MBTA's finances. After years of paying the tab for the T's unpaid bills, the Legislature a decade ago adopted a so-called forward funding system that awarded the T a portion of the state's sales tax revenues and was designed to make the agency fiscally independent. The T subsequently raised fares three times, the last coming five years ago. In 2009, Patrick proposed raising the state gas tax, but lawmakers balked, opting instead to raise the sales tax 25 percent - from 5 percent to 6.25 percent - and to earmark more revenue toward transportation system.
Murray has suggested that the Patrick administration should lead on a transportation finance plan before the Legislature responds.