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MBTA board to get spending blueprint

Plan to provide clearer picture of cuts, fare hikes

ERIC MOSCOWITZ/GLOBE STAFF

Advocates for MBTA riders dressed as superheroes offered financing alternatives to the T’s finance committee yesterday.

MBTA administrators said yesterday that they plan to present the T board with a spending blueprint March 14 that will provide riders with the clearest sense yet of how much fares will rise and how deeply service will be cut.

The board has until April 15 to approve a balanced budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, when any changes would take effect.

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Numbers released yesterday show just how constrained the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is by the billions in debt the Legislature made its responsibility in 2000 and by other costs largely outside the T’s control, such as fuel and federally mandated door-to-door service for the disabled.

Even as the T has reduced staffing and reined in health insurance costs, a few items push the transit authority into the red next year and beyond. Principal and interest payments on debt are scheduled to rise by $80 million, to nearly $440 million in fiscal 2013 and then climb higher.

The cost of The Ride, which provides door-to-door service for fewer than 1 percent of the T’s customers, is projected to increase by 23 percent, to $124 million next year.

With Beacon Hill leaders reluctant to bail out the T and MBTA administrators trying to use the limited tools in their arsenal - fare increases and service cuts - a growing chorus of riders, civic leaders, business groups, and others have called for more state or local aid.

That includes a group of advocates who dressed as superheroes, clad in capes and tights and scattered fake bills to inject levity into yesterday’s meeting of the MBTA board’s finance committee, while touting a series of measures to ease financial pressure.

Five members of the T Riders Union, calling themselves the “Fast Five,’’ each stepped forward to propose a different idea in sing-song, such as calling on colleges and universities to collectively contribute $60 million annually in exchange for undergraduate access, similar to Chicago’s U-Pass.

Only the Legislature and the governor, not the MBTA board, could direct more tax revenue to the T or relieve it of debt. But the T leaders are the ones hearing most directly from the public, including frequent rider Robin Riley Fast of Malden, who followed the Fast Five.

“Please don’t be complicit in wrecking the T,’’ she said, pointing to the economic, environmental, and societal benefits of mass transit.

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