Despite cuts to service and a systemwide fare increase that took effect in July, ridership on the T grew in August, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which released the monthly figures Sunday.
On an average weekday, 1.256 million trips were recorded during the month, or roughly 1.2 percent more than were recorded in August 2011. The spike bucked analysts’ forecasts that ridership would decline by as much as 5.5 percent following the fare hikes, according to the MBTA.
The increase in ridership is the 18th in the last 19 months, according to statistics provided by the T; the only dip since February 2011 came in July, when ridership sank a fraction of a percentage point.
Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey said the figures are proof that public transportation is increasingly important to residents squeezed by a sluggish economy and soaring gas prices.
“It’s clear that folks still use the MBTA as a way to get around the metropolitian Boston area,” Davey said in a phone interview Sunday. “I think that it bodes well for us this year.”
But Davey said the agency would not revise its ridership projections and that in the coming weeks he and other top officials will hold public forums across the state ahead of an effort to tackle funding shortfalls that have beset the agency in recent years.
The fare hike that T leadership instituted earlier this year was the rosier of two dire plans outlined by transportation officials: pay more at the fare gate, or slash train and bus service and eliminate some less frequented routes.
The service cuts were largely held off after they proved deeply unattractive to more than 6,000 people who filled community meetings held throughout the state before the T’s board enacted the fare changes in April. The agreement helped the agency cobble together a one-year, $1.8 billion budget that required a $49 million bailout that had to be approved by the state Legislature.
Now, Davey and others in the agency plan to talk to residents about addressing $5 billion in structural debt, much of which is left over from costs of the Big Dig, while still attempting to grow service and address an extensive maintenance backlog.
“What we heard from customers during the fare hearings last year is that people want more service, not less, so as we look at the long-term transportation finance plan, we have to keep that in mind,” Davey said. “It’s going to be increasingly difficult to provide that [service] considering these difficult financial times.”
In interviews Sunday, T riders expressed mixed feelings on the increased ridership.
Herve Zephyr, 44, of Dorchester, posited that more riders were recorded in the month because the MBTA is cracking down on fare evasion.
Zephyr said that before the fare hikes, Green Line drivers would leave the back doors open when traveling above ground. In recent weeks he has noticed that drivers are keeping those doors shut.
“Now you pay,” said Zephyr.
For others, the couple of dollars it costs to get through the fare gates remains a comparative bargain.
“It’s the only way to get around for some people,” said James Santagati, 57, of Dorchester. “I’ve been taking the T since I was 7.”
But the pinch is still felt by many on fixed incomes, including Heleni Thayre of Brookline.
Thayre said she was thankful for her senior discount pass, but that for many the rise in cost is too much. She blames state legislators for “pouring oodles and gobs [of funding] into the streets for cars and vehicles.”
Thayre said the subway system is a vital part of the city, and that hiking prices does not make sense.
“It’s dishonest; it’s inappropriate,” she said. “There’s no honesty or logic to that.”
Andrew Olson, a Boston tour guide dressed in period garb who plays the character of his ninth generation grandfather, said that the increase has not been much of a burden because he does not mind walking.
“If I don’t take the T, I walk,” he said.
Olson, 42, said he feels he has earned a discount.
“I think the tour guides in Boston should ride for free,” he said with a smile.