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T increases fares, also debates youth cuts

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s board of directors this afternoon approved a 5 percent fare increase for passengers on the MBTA.

Aram Boghosian for the Globe/File

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s board of directors this afternoon approved a 5 percent fare increase for passengers on the MBTA.

LYNN — Even as they voted to increase fares on the T, members of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors urged T officials to expedite their study on discounting fares for young people and college students. But MBTA managers expressed skepticism that a universal youth pass would be fiscally feasible or even a good idea.

For years, youth activists have pushed for cheaper student fares and partnerships with local colleges for a subsidized university pass, and those efforts have intensified in recent months. But in an unusually heated moment Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey said the board was overstating the ease of developing such a program.

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“Other than MIT, there is no other college or university in the metro area that has shown any interest or proclivity in doing this,” Davey said. “I’m just being honest with you.”

The discussion of youth fares came at a Wednesday meeting at Lynn City Hall, where officials approved a proposal to increase fares for bus, subway, and commuter rail service by 5 to 7 percent starting July 1. The increases were first announced in March.

The board also voted to approve the purchase of 24 trolleys for the Green Line extension and 40 hybrid buses. The new vehicles will cost $156 million, though much of that will come from federal funds.

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The buses are scheduled to be put into service by February 2015, and Green Line cars are due to arrive by early 2018.

Davey said that opposition to the fare hikes has been less vehement than in 2012, when fares rose by 23 percent.

“Six thousand folks showing up [at meetings in 2012], versus 150?” Davey said. “Maybe 150 said they didn’t like the idea, but it was a far cry from what we heard 2½ years ago.”

The price of bus and subway tickets will rise by 10 cents, increasing to $1.60 and $2.10. The price of a combined bus-and-subway monthly pass will increase by $5 to $75, and a monthly bus pass will rise $2 to $50. Commuter rail rates will also change, with those in Zone 1, towns close to Boston, seeing their monthly fares increase by $9 and the farthest regions seeing an increase of $17.

Dominic Blue, a vice president at MassMutual and a recently appointed member of the MassDOT board, was the lone no vote on the increases.

“I’d hate to get caught in a cycle where we say, every two years, a 5 percent increase is acceptable,” Blue said.

Under the new fare scheme, student passes will be offered to middle and high school students for $26 per month, down $2. But youth advocates are pushing for a $10 monthly pass that would be open to anyone between 12 and 21 years old.

Charles Planck, assistant general manager of the T, said the agency would have a report by December outlining the feasibility of youth passes, pricing based on the time of day, and fares based on income level. But John R. Jenkins, the board’s chairman, said the T seemed to be dragging its feet on looking at new student fares.

“It always comes up,” Jenkins said, referring to the youth protesters who appear at monthly meetings. “And I think at least we need to give those folks a more credible explanation of why not or why so or how.”

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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