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Metro

Plan to share costs would curb T hikes

MBTA fare increases would be limited to 25 percent and other state agencies as well as major nonprofits, universities, and public attractions would be asked to aid the T under a proposal presented today by the MBTA Advisory Board.

The board, which represents cities and towns served by the T, offered the plan as an alternative to steep fare hikes and deep service cuts proposed by the MBTA last month.

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The proposal, which the T is under no obligation to accept, suggests that Massport subsidize Silver Line service to Logan Airport and assume control of commuter ferries the T might eliminate. It also calls for the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to absorb the MBTA’s Transit Police.

That would erase nearly $70 million of the MBTA’s $161 million deficit for the coming year, while a 25 percent fare increase could generate $75 million, even with an expected loss in ridership. The remainder would come through a host of new payments -- including a proposed 50-cent surcharge on tickets to major sporting events and concerts -- as well as a wage freeze for MBTA employees.

Some of the options will be more likely than others to win support from MBTA leaders, the governor, and the Legislature, but they represent new options beyond the T proposals that have proven wildly unpopular, said Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, which represents the 175 Eastern Massachusetts cities and towns that under state law cover part of the T’s budget.

“This doesn’t fix the T, but we want to respond to everything that our members have heard about the needs of the system and how important it is to not have service cuts,” Regan said. “If people go after these ideas with some enthusiasm and some vigor, we can get through fiscal 2013 without a major service cut.”

The T has proposed raising fare and pass prices an average of 35 to 43 percent while cutting bus routes, scrapping ferry service, eliminating weekend and late-night service on the commuter rail, and substantially raising discounted fares for students, seniors, and the disabled.

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Those proposals have prompted fervent outcry. About 3,600 people attended the MBTA’s first 18 hearings -- counting only those who signed in -- and 1,025 of them spoke; about 3,950 have e-mailed. That was before last night’s hearing in Quincy, with a dozen meetings remaining.

“It clearly shows there’s support and demand for public transportation, but at the end of the day we have some difficult decisions that we have to make in order to have enough revenue for the service that we provide,” said Jonathan R. Davis, the T’s acting general manager.

Davis called the Advisory Board’s proposal thoughtful and said he plans to meet with Regan to review the suggestions. The T will present a refined plan to its own board next month, for a vote in April; changes would take effect July 1.

Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, called the advisory board’s proposal reasonable and attractive.

“It’s recommending a shared pain among the state, Massport, institutions, and of course a fare increase for riders,” while avoiding major cuts that would undermine public transportation, Widmer said. “This is a basic economic and social lifeline for the region. I mean, the scale of the cuts in that sense are unacceptable. On the other hand, you’ve got to close the budget gap.”

Transferring Transit Police to the same agency that oversees State Police could bring efficiency -- the Boston-based Transit Police force, formed to cover the urban system, now responds to T crimes from Rockport to Worcester -- and remove $36 million from the T’s books, Regan said.

Massport absorbing ferry service and offsetting the Silver Line could spare the T $6 million a year, while a more dramatic move -- selling the associated ferry boats, piers, and parking lots to Massport -- could generate $25 million.

Massport spokesman Matthew Brelis said the proposals were too new for the port authority to comment.

But there is growing support in the Legislature to have the financially solvent Massport aid the T, said state Representative William M. Straus, co-chairman of the Joint Transportation Committee.

“We shouldn’t be viewing the ferry service as something that is on the chopping block. [It] should be run by a public agency which has port access as its mission,” Straus said.

The proposal also includes raising $5 million through a 50-cent ticket surcharge for concerts and events that rely heavily on the T; $8 million from an employee wage freeze; $2 million from institutions benefiting from free advertising in station names -- like Charles/MGH, BU East, and Tufts Medical Center -- and more than $10 million from universities, museums, and other institutions not just in Boston but in suburbs, many of which have decried the potential loss of weekend commuter rail.

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.

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