After all of the talk, public hearings, and protests over the past three months, the MBTA Board voted Wednesday afternoon to boost fares 23 percent and cut back service in an attempt to close a projected $161 million deficit in the next fiscal year.
Board members approved a plan in a 4-1 vote that would raise most subway fares by 30 cents, bus fares by 25 cents, and commuter rail fares by at least $1.25.
Meanwhile, some cuts in service -- mainly involving bus routes, The Ride, and the commuter rail -- were also approved. The new fares are effective July 1.
Many people showed up at today's hearing and were given a chance to talk during an hour-and-a-half-long "public speaking" session before the vote. They also chanted a chorus of "Shame on You!" after the vote was taken.
The plan that was approved was the third budget proposal after . Those plans were presented in dozens of public hearings across the state where they faced strong opposition from the public.
The Protests Continue
Meanwhile, several groups continued to protest this latest budget plan, including an into Wednesday morning.
An "Occupy" group was also planning to hold a "people's hearing" outside the State House today at 3 p.m., followed by a 5 p.m. rally and 8 p.m. vigil.
"We’re going to have a people’s hearing where our voices are really heard and we don’t just get lip service," Josh Golin, of Occupy Boston and Occupy MBTA, said at the hearing.
Today's vote takes care of the projected deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1 but does not get rid of the agency was given in 2000. Critics have said the state should bail out the troubled transportation department.
A recent Boston Globe poll showed that 40 percent of Massachusetts voters supported a state bailout for the MBTA.
'You're Still Not Listening'
Of the dozens of impassioned riders who spoke before the board, many were upset over not only the fare increases but what they said was a lack of communication between the public and the decision makers.
"There were a lot of legitimate proposals from the people behind me. Not one of them appears in your recommendations. Not one!” Jonathan Gale, of Cross Disability Advocacy Coalition, said to loud cheers from the crowd. "With all the hearings you’ve held, on the emails you’ve received, and all the letters you’ve received, you’re still not listening."
Indeed, the public process, which started in January, elicited an unprecedented response from the public, according to MBTA acting General Manager Jonathan Davis. This process involved 31 public meetings that about 6,000 people attended, with 2,000 of them commenting. In addition, the MBTA received 5,800 emails about the proposals.
In comparison, the last time fares were hiked, in 2007, 80 people attended the public meetings.
Despite the criticism that the MBTA turned a deaf ear to other proposals, many on the board Wednesday said that they took the comments they received very seriously.
"I will vote in favor of this proposal with a heavy heart. Low-wage workers suffer and work paycheck to paycheck," board member Janice Loux said, urging the Legislature to step up and fund part of the shortfall.
A System Under Strain
With this year's deficit at $161, and next year's projected to be $100 million, Davey said that today's vote is only a one-year solution. The MBTA spends more each year to service its debt than it does on payroll.
At the same time, ridership on the T has boomed. The last year has seen the highest sustained increase in the T's history, Davis said. Ridership is up 8 percent from last year.
Meanwhile, the T is struggling to maintain an aging fleet while coping with an enormous debt.