The MBTA's finances are a disaster. That's a fact. But are MBTA riders solely responsible for dealing with the shortfalls?
That's short sighted and wrong.
Placing the burden entirely on the backs of T customers ignores the reality that our entire transportation system is woefully underfunded, and demands a statewide comprehensive solution that must include new revenues.
Three years ago Gov. Deval Patrick attempted to raise revenue through the gas tax, which was met with stiff resistance. Citizens and legislators demanded more efficiency and serious reforms.
I am proud of what we accomplished in the transportation reform bill. We removed the silos by creating a single entity, MassDOT, to more efficiently manage our transportation networks; everything from our bridges to our roads and highways to our public transit systems, both the MBTA and transit agencies across the state, came under one umbrella.
These and related reforms are now saving significant taxpayer dollars.
The mantra at the time was "Reform before Revenue!" I'm proud of the reforms we implemented, but it is time to talk about revenue. We knew then what we are seeing now: that our transportation system cannot be maintained or improved without new sources of funding in addition to reforms.
It is now time to be brutally honest. If we want the kind of transportation system that supports local job creation, keeps our economy growing stronger, and gives Massachusetts a competitive advantage over other states, we must adequately fund it and raise the necessary revenues to meet that need.
We don't hear proposals that shut down highway exits or close local roads because of a lack of funding. And yet the current T proposal includes the complete elimination of a number of bus routes, as well as shutting down the commuter rail on nights and weekends.
This is unacceptable.
People depend on these routes every day to get to and from their jobs. Forcing people off the T and into cars will increase traffic congestion, increase cost for those families forced to possibly buy new cars, and create an unbearable situation in already overcrowded buses, along with the associated environmental impact of increased air pollution from more cars on our roads.
MBTA riders know what it means to talk about new revenues, and have paid their fair share. The gas tax was last raised in 1991. Since that time, MBTA riders have seen multiple fare increases, with fares more than doubling in that time.
I am not suggesting that some modest fare increase should not be a part of a solution; in fact I know it must be to meet the scale of the problem. However, I do insist that any fare increase be a part of a comprehensive long-term solution!
Asking riders to pay more for less service, and ignoring the crumbling infrastructure all around us is unacceptable.
We can do better than the current T proposal. We must do better.
I am urging my colleagues in the Legislature to continue the work we started three years ago. Just as we removed the silos in transportation administration in creating MassDOT, we must remove the silos in the way we view our funding problems in transportation.
Now is the time to finish the job on "reform before revenue." We have a statewide problem, and we need a statewide solution.
I encourage residents to voice their views. There will be a number of public hearings around the region in the coming weeks. Attend. Speak up. Encourage friends and co-workers to do the same.
-- Rep. Carl Sciortino is a Democrat representing the 34th Middlesex District. He is a Medford resident.
IF YOU GO...
The MBTA will hold the following public hearings, from 6-8 p.m. each night:
Feb. 16 Malden City Council chambers, 200 Pleasant St.
Feb. 28 Somerville High School Auditorium, 81 Highland Ave.
Feb. 29 Cambridge Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave.
View the full MBTA proposal and schedule of public hearings at http://mbta.com/about_the_mbta/?id=23567.