A group of advocates for MBTA riders has a message for legislators: Don’t allow the transit agency to raise its fares by more than 5 percent every two years.
In 2013, Beacon Hill passed a law that limited fare increases so that riders wouldn’t be slammed with sudden hikes. But Governor Charlie Baker wants to repeal that limit as part of his plan to overhaul the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
That doesn’t make a lot of riders happy. At a public hearing, several community members testified against the move. State Representative Evandro Carvalho, a Boston Democrat, also questioned Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack about the change.
Now, the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, an independent group that represents customers and submits recommendations to the agency, is part of the opposition.
Late last month, the 11-person committee sent a letter to lawmakers, asking them to keep the cap in place.
“It is clear that there is widespread support among MBTA riders for smaller fare increases that are more frequent and predictable rather than larger and unpredictable fare increases,” the group wrote in the letter, which is posted on its website (www.mbtaroc.com).
“If you raise fares by 20 percent, you’re going to lose a lot of riders,” said Lenard Diggins, a committee member.
In what may be good news for those fighting against removing the cap, the fare increase proposal appears to be less of a priority for the Baker administration. Instead of publicly pushing for the ability to raise fares, officials have largely focused on moves that could make it easier for the T to privatize services, among other proposals.
The price of transparency in government operations
What does it take to get e-mail records from the general manager of the country’s fifth-largest transit system?
About $1,000, three months, and a bit of persistence.
The MBTA on Monday released 500 e-mails from Beverly A. Scott’s files when she was the T’s top official. The next day, the Globe published a story based on the e-mails, including details on Scott’s consternation with Keolis Commuter Services, the T’s commuter rail operator, and some questionable decisions about subway service.
What it did not detail is how much and how long it took me to get the e-mails.
Under Massachusetts public records law, correspondence to and from government officials should generally be available to the public.
Public agencies are also allowed to charge for the costs associated with providing the records.
Government watchdogs, however, worry that agencies can charge exorbitant fees in order to discourage people from requesting the information.
After the T was battered by snow storms this winter, a number of news media outlets, including the Globe, requested Scott’s e-mails from the difficult stretch.
In March, the T informed the Globe that it would charge $3,110 for the e-mails. About $1,460 would go toward printing costs, according to the T’s bill.
I asked the T to reconsider printing out the more than 700 pages of electronic messages, and the price became a relative bargain: The agency could put them on a disc for a little more than $1,000.
The paper ultimately paid up, leading to the story you may have read last week. But it also represented a steep price for information that the state’s public records law says should be generally available.
Mayor Walsh and the T’s communication problems
After I read through Scott’s e-mails, it became clear that many T and administration officials were concerned about keeping their public messages straight.
And in at least one case, a top T official was upset that Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh publicly ruminated about whether the transit agency should remain open through the inclement weather.
With another blizzard predicted for Valentine’s Day weekend, Walsh said to reporters that he hoped the T would shut down to keep people safe.
The only problem? T officials hadn’t reached any such decision.
Walsh’s statement led to a whirlwind of news stories that alarmed T leaders. Joe Pesaturo, the agency’s spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to transportation officials that he was “getting bombarded by media outlets that want to know status of the T this weekend.”
The e-mails show that Secretary Pollack wanted to tell reporters that any decision to halt service would be premature. But Scott said she believed they “should just let the Mayor’s statement stand,” and that officials should work on coordinating the messages.
The next day, Walsh changed his tune.
The move prompted another flood of stories. The group of officials started exchanging news articles via e-mail that showed Walsh clarifying that he believed the T could operate during the weekend.
In an reply to one such article, Sean McCarthy, who was serving as the T’s deputy general manager and chief operating officer, expressed his exasperation.
“Folks, these statements are KILLING us,” wrote McCarthy, who has since retired from the agency. “Don’t we have enough PR problems.”