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MBTA board OK’s fare hikes, service cuts in stormy session

Opponents of the proposed MBTA fare increases wore signs at a board meeting at the State Transportation Building.

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Opponents of the proposed MBTA fare increases wore signs at a board meeting at the State Transportation Building.

Facing emotional testimony and shouts that they were turning their backs on the poor and disabled, the MBTA board of directors cast what members called a reluctant vote Wednesday to raise fares, starting July 1.

For riders with the reloadable plastic CharlieCard, subway fares will rise 30 cents, to $2, while a bus ride will cost 25 cents more, at $1.50. Monthly passes for most commuter-rail riders will increase between $38 and $64. Fares on the T were last increased five years ago.

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Fares and monthly passes are going up an average of 23 percent, but only a handful of the 200 bus routes and three of the weekend commuter rail lines will be eliminated, far less harsh than the widespread cuts and fare increases of 40 percent or more floated in January and rebuked at a series of packed and highly charged hearings.

Still, the plan imposes a disproportionate increase on the disabled, who will see their discounted fares more than double, and poses a hardship for those on fixed incomes. It also amounts to a patchwork one-year fix for an agency burdened by $5 billion in debt, much of it assigned by the Legislature without a realistic plan for paying it off.

That prompted board member Ferdinand Alvaro Jr. to cast the lone vote against the plan, straining at first to be heard over cries of “You don’t ride it!’’ and “We pay you!’’ from audience members expecting him to vote yes and unaware that the board is unpaid.

“I assure you that we do care and that countless hours have been spent to try to minimize this impact,’’ said Alvaro, a corporate lawyer, noting the long-term reluctance of lawmakers to raise taxes to address the state’s transportation funding crisis. “I cannot in good conscience support a budget that . . . burdens the most vulnerable people in our population with covering the gap. It’s time for the Legislature to come to the table.’’

The four T board members who voted to raise fares said they felt they had little choice, echoing the call for legislators to develop sustainable sources of income not just for the T, but also for the state’s highway system and the threadbare bus agencies in smaller cities in Massachusetts.

Over chants of “just vote no’’ and “take a stand’’ from a crowd numbering 150, board member Andrew Whittle said he would vote yes, but asked riders to help the board ensure that legislators make good on assertions they will address transportation finance after the fall elections.

“This is a hell of a way to run a railroad,’’ said Whittle, an MIT engineering professor. “We’ve heard from many people today how terrible this is for low-income people and people with disabilities.’’

Among those they heard from was Rob Park, a Boston Center for Independent Living counselor who spoke from his wheelchair, saying public transportation is “a right, not a privilege.’’

Park said he was particularly concerned about passengers who rely on The Ride, the T’s door-to-door service for the disabled. Fares for The Ride are rising from $2 to $4 or even $5, depending on where customers travel.

“I rise today for those people with disabilities who are disenfranchised,’’ Park said. “I rise for people in nursing homes who only get $72.80 a month and need to be able to afford to buy Ride tickets to get out. I rise for people with disabilities who are terrified, and the odds are that one of you members of the board are going to need The Ride some day.’’

The T board heard 90 minutes of similar testimony, after nearly three months of public hearings that drew 6,000 people from across Eastern Massachusetts.

The agency also received thousands of e-mails and petition signatures imploring administrators not to balance their budget on the backs of riders.

MBTA acting general manager Jonathan R. Davis said the T had seen the longest period of uninterrupted ridership growth, 13 months, in its history.

But no transit agency in the United States or Europe covers its costs solely with fares, and the T is particularly strapped. Because of soaring costs and limited state aid, the T would run a $160 million deficit next year if it did not raise fares and cut service.

“We cannot afford the system we have today, and the system we want is beyond our reach,’’ Davis said.

The fare increases and service cuts got the T only a little over half way to erasing its deficit.

The rest came from one-time sources, including about $5 million in leftover snow and ice removal funds, and $51 million from a surplus in a little-known account fed by motor vehicle inspection fees. That money requires legislative approval before it can be spent on the T.

Governor Deval Patrick last week reminded the public that he tried unsuccessfully to persuade legislators three years ago to raise the gas tax to support the state’s heavily indebted transportation systems. He called on lawmakers to join him next year in addressing the crisis.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said through a spokesman that lawmakers are reviewing the short-term MBTA bailout request and will hold a hearing Monday but declined to address a larger solution for next year.

His chief of staff met with activists who marched to Beacon Hill after the T board meeting.

The office of Senate President Therese Murray said she may comment on the matter Thursday.

Javon Morris, 14, who said he earns $20 working Saturdays to help his unemployed mother, told the T board that the current cost to ride the T already limits his travel.

“With the fare increases that are going to be happening, if you all do agree on that,’’ said Morris, who lives in Mattapan, “that right there is going to put me in a tough spot.’’

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

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