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STARTS & STOPS

Groups lining up against MBTA fare increases

Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe/File

The MBTA is gathering public input on fare increases that could go into effect in July.

By Nicole Dungca Globe Staff 

The organizations have very different causes, but their messages to the MBTA have been the same: Rethink the proposals for fare increases.

As the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority seeks input on possible fare increases that could go into effect in July, key representatives from several advocacy groups — including the Pioneer Institute, the NAACP, and Transportation for Massachusetts — have lined up against the idea.

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MBTA officials are considering two proposals before they vote on increases in March: One would lift single-ride prices about 5 percent, and the other would lift single-ride prices close to 10 percent. Both would substantially raise the prices of some discount passes, including a 23 percent increase on passes specifically for students.

A Boston public schools assistant superintendent, Kim Rice, has urged the MBTA to reconsider the proposal for the student passes.

During a public hearing Tuesday, Ayele Shakur, chairman of the education committee for the Boston NAACP, called increasing the cost of student passes an “equity issue” that would fall hardest on poorer families.

“When families are faced with choosing quality schools in faraway neighborhoods versus educating their children within walking distance closer to home, the issue of public transportation becomes an even greater issue of equity, access and opportunity for a quality education,” Shakur wrote in an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post and WBUR.

Raising the prices would disproportionately hurt people of color, particularly students within Boston public schools who use the free passes, said Shakur, also a regional executive director of BUILD, a nonprofit that uses entrepreneurship to help low-income youth. According to the district’s statistics, Boston Public Schools are about 86 percent nonwhite, and nearly half come from low-income households.

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Meanwhile, Jim Stergios, executive director of the fiscally conservative Pioneer Institute, says it’s simply a matter of putting the T’s customers first. The MBTA needs to go quicker with reforms, and slower on fare increases, he wrote in a column in the Globe.

“It’s hard to say, when you have so many delayed trains and buses, that people should pony up more money,” he said in an interview.

Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, didn’t respond to a question about the unified outrage during the fare hearings.

In any case, the MBTA will hold several more public meetings to gauge the public’s response to the fare increases: from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 9 at Chelsea High School, 299 Everett Ave., Chelsea; 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 10 at Roxbury Community College’s Media Arts Building 1, 1234 Columbus Ave., Roxbury; and 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 11 at Weymouth High School, 1 Wildcat Way, Weymouth.

Riders can also write to MBTA, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116, Attention: Fare Proposal Committee; call 617-222-3200 or 617-222-5146; or e-mail fareproposal@mbta.com.

As of Thursday, the MBTA had received 453 e-mails and written comments on the fare proposals, according to Pesaturo.

About 1,350 used the T’s public comment tool, and another 3,000 have apparently used it to see how their fares would fare under the new proposals, he said.

Rail delays explained

Want to know why your trip to work on the commuter rail was so terrible last week?

Keolis Commuter Services wants to tell you.

A reader, a loyal passenger on the Franklin commuter line, wrote in with a picture of a flier that she received last week after her commute Wednesday stretched to 3.5 hours.

Keolis apologized for commuter rail troubles on both Tuesday and Wednesday, noting that there were “two consecutive nights of major inconvenience during your evening journey.”

A 13-year-old boy who was struck and killed by a train near Dedham caused Tuesday’s delays. The flier noted that 10 trains on the line were late Wednesday, and some riders were delayed by more than three hours.

There were reasons aplenty: One train had a “mechanical problem.” And after another train tried to hook onto that disabled train, there were even more technical issues that led to speed restrictions.

Employees then decided to remove those passengers because the trip would take too long. Then, the passengers from the delayed train weren’t told about extra room on another, so many frustrated commuters had to wait out in the rain for as long as 30 minutes.

On the flier, Keolis struck a contrite tone: “We know there is no apology or explanation that can replace the time you lost as a result of these issues. However, we want you to know that we are very sorry for what has been a terrible commuting week on the Franklin Line and are taking a close look at how we can improve our performance.”

The rider, who didn’t want to start any trouble by allowing her name to be used by the Globe, said she doesn’t recall similar fliers, but Mac Daniel, a spokesman for Keolis, said they are not new.

The service has been apologizing and trying to explain mechanical problems since it took over in July 2014.

“We have also been making our ‘Rich Explains’ videos on Vimeo’’ to have the director of train operations, explain what happened and how railroads work, Daniel said in an e-mail.

In one such video, Rich Murphy, the director of train operations, tried to explain why a commuter rail train derailed last month, even though officials were still unsure about exactly what caused the derailment.

“We don’t really know at this point, why the tracks failed, but they failed, causing the train to derail, and so it had a big impact on the entire network,” he said in the video.

MBTA’s debt strategy

Everyone knows the MBTA has a lot of debt.

Now, the board that oversees the embattled agency is paying a company up to $50,000 to figure out what to do with that debt, which totalled about $5.45 billion (or up to $8.8 billion, if you count interest), according to a Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation report from 2015.

On Monday, the Fiscal and Management Control Board approved a contract for PFM, a financial advisory and asset management firm, to come up with strategies on how to deal with the payments.

The MBTA’s control board will get a report on various strategies by Feb. 22.


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