Metro

Proposed MBTA fare hikes draw flak at meeting

Massachusetts Senior Action Council members (left to right) Rosa Bentley, Marsha Manong, and Karen Lynch attended Monday’s hearing at 10 Park Plaza in Boston.
David L. Ryan/Globe staff
Massachusetts Senior Action Council members (left to right) Rosa Bentley, Marsha Manong, and Karen Lynch attended Monday’s hearing at 10 Park Plaza in Boston.

Residents and activists Monday blasted the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s two proposals to hike fares, saying the increases would hurt those most dependent on the system, such as students who use T passes to get to school.

Lauren Flinn, director of post-secondary support at Excel Academy Charter Schools, said at the meeting at 10 Park Plaza in Boston that the hikes to student passes — which would boost prices 23 percent to $32 a month under both scenarios — would make it harder for students to attend their classes.

“Every dollar counts for them, to work for one less shift or to study for one less hour, or put that money toward something to eat, instead of just trying to get to school for one day,” Flinn said.

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The control board that oversees the MBTA is considering two fare hike proposals — one that would increase fares system-wide by an average of 6.71 percent and another that would increase fares system-wide by an average of almost 10 percent. Officials say one proposal would generate about $33.2 million in additional revenue, while the other would generate about $49.4 million.

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Transit officials say they are eager to shrink the deficit within the MBTA’s operating budget, which could reach $242 million for the next fiscal year. Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s chief administrator, said the extra revenue could go toward fixing rails, signals, and other infrastructure problems.

“The fare increase will lead to better service,” he said. “Every dollar we save in the operating budget, we’ll put back into the system.”

But those who testified were not convinced prices needed to rise so steeply. Kim Rice, an assistant superintendent for Boston Public Schools, urged transportation officials to reconsider increases to the costs of student passes. The district provides seven-day student passes for 21,000 students, and the price hike could cost the district about $1.4 million, she said.

The district is grappling with its own budget problems, and that new cost could translate into cuts to academic or other operational services. The district had wanted to expand its program that provides students with free passes, but the steep hikes would make that impossible, Rice said.

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Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said she has heard the concerns about the student passes but said officials must find a balance to fund the system. There has been pressure throughout the years to keep the fares for students low.

“They are relatively less expensive because, in the past, we have consistently tried to keep them low because of requests like that,” she said.

Administration officials have argued that, legally, a fare and a pass are two different things — a pass is actually a discount on a fare, they say — which means pass prices are not subject to the same limits on price increases.

That interpretation has angered some transportation advocates, who say that riders don’t see a difference between a fare and a monthly pass.

“The T is making a distinction between fare increases and pass increases, and to me, these distinctions are coming out of Franz Kafka,” said Jack Spence, a Brookline resident, referring to the writer known for his disorienting and complex plots. “They amount to feelings of betrayal to people who are participating in the process.”

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Kiki Chaiton, a Lynn resident, told officials she is an example of a rider who used the T less after fares were last increased. When the MBTA raised prices for its door-to-door van service for the disabled from $2 to $4 in 2012, she said she had to give up a longtime volunteer job because she could not afford the extra rides (The MBTA eventually rolled back the price to $3 after months of protests).

“While proposed fare increases seem modest to you, you must understand that many of us struggle with the prices,” she said.

Vivian Ortiz, with the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, said officials talk about the great value of the monthly passes — particularly compared with those of similar transit systems — but those passes are already unaffordable to people with whom she rides the bus and trains.

“My question is ‘affordable’ for whom?” she said. “We’re using that term as affordable for everyone, but it’s not affordable to pay $80 a month.”

Kristina Egan, executive director of Transportation for Massachusetts, an advocacy group for public transit, said both fare hike proposals were “neither modest nor predictable,” which violates the spirit of a 2013 law that capped fare increases. The increases should be an average system-wide rate of 5 percent, she said.

“This is a policy choice,” she said. “It’s not born of necessity. We are not in a place of last resort.”

The control board that oversees the MBTA voted in January to collect input on the fare increases with public meetings before voting in March.

The meetings will conclude Feb. 11. A larger crowd is expected at a Tuesday meeting in the same location as Monday’s. It is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.