For the first time in more than five years, MBTA riders will have to dig deeper into their pockets and pay higher fares to ride public transit.
After more than an hour of pleas, chants and demands yesterday, the MassDOT Board of Directors voted to raise the cost to take the T by an average of 23 percent, while cutting services to some buses and weekend Commuter Rail routes.
Officials passed the measure 4-1, sparking uproar from enraged riders in a packed hearing room at the State Transportation building.
"It's unconscionable," said Lee Matsueda, director of the T Riders Union. "It's not just a social issue, it's a moral issue. It's not just about dollars and cents, it's about peoples' lives."
The fare increase and service cuts, which will help close the MBTA's massive budget gap, go into effect July 1.
Ferdinand Alvaro Jr., the lone MassDOT board member who voted against the fare hike, called the proposal "a disgrace." "I cannot in good conscience support a budget that covers the gap and burdens the most vulnerable in our population," he said.
Top T officials warned the committee that the proposal is a one-time solution, and riders will face more cuts and fare hikes next year if the state doesn't step in with a long-term transportation solution.
"I don't think any of us are happy with this," said board member Andrew Whittle.
Following the vote, riders rallied, booing and chanting "shame on you." Riders said they weren't surprised by the outcome, however.
"It's a failure of leadership and it's a failure in our system," said Khalida Smalls, with tears forming in her eyes."The only reason this system exists is because all of these people here. And they were ignored."
One more vote
While a major hurdle was passed Wednesday to close the T's budget gap, service reductions and fare increases aren't enough.
To close the rest of the deficit, T officials are relying on more than $60 million from the state's motor vehicle inspection trust fund, snow and ice surplus and leasing the North Station Garage.
Gov. Deval Patrick filed legislation last week to use those surplus funds to close the T's fiscal 2013 budget, however, the reform needs approval from the state's Joint Transportation Committee, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on the legislation next week.
f the Legislature does not approve the proposal, T officials will be forced to go back to the drawing board to find additional ways to close the gap.
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