The “T” Hits the Financial Wall

Post date: Jan 18, 2012 11:50:21 PM

Boston’s MBTA transit system – which always seems to be full of promise and full of problems – has now hit the wall financially.

The MBTA yesterday began a series of public meetings on a set of proposed fare increases and service cuts that will be disastrous if fully implemented.

The system faces a $185 million operating deficit in the coming fiscal year, caused by a combination of increasing operating costs (mainly due to increasing ridership!), decreasing revenues (from a falling sales tax), and a huge overhang of inherited debt (mainly related to the Big Dig). (See MBTA’s website.)

Rich Davey, MassDOT’s new secretary, comes from the transit side and is painfully aware of what is at stake. Massachusetts’ transportation reform legislation, which accomplished so much, apparently did not solve the revenue problem, or at least not sufficiently to cope with the problems of the Great Recession.

Two things to keep in mind: Increasing ridership should be a good thing, although our current transit financing system can’t sustain it. And the Big Dig was also a good thing – despite all the ugly management and cost problems – and has helped transform Boston into a real world-class urban success story.

Gas tax anyone?