Lawmakers to T: shelve fare hikes during Tobin project

Christian Wade | The Salem News | April 9, 2019

BOSTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers want the MBTA to postpone planned fare hikes until the Tobin Bridge project is completed, arguing that the higher fares will add to traffic woes by deterring commuters from using public transit.

In a letter to the T’s fiscal control board, the lawmakers said the 6 percent fare increases, which go into effect in July, will drive more people away from taking the commuter rail and other public transportation at a time when the bridge renovations and a Route 1 construction project threaten to create a traffic nightmare around the city.

“The dual burden of increased commute times and increased cost of public transportation … creates a significant dilemma for residents of Northeastern Massachusetts,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Fairness dictates that for the duration of the Tobin Bridge and Route 1 Repair Project, affected commuters deserve relief rather than increased burdens,” they said.

Among the 30 lawmakers who signed the letter were Sens. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, as well as Reps. Tom Walsh, D-Peabody, Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly, Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, and Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead.

Work got underway April 1 on the Tobin Bridge’s surface and structural improvements, which will take two years.

Lane closures on the bridge are expected to cause “significant traffic impacts” during the work, according to state Department of Transportation officials.

As an alternative, MassDOT officials have encouraged commuters to use public transit, including the Haverhill and Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail lines.

State Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, one of the letter signers, said traffic congestion from the Tobin project, coupled with the fare hikes, will result in increased commuting times and significantly higher costs for motorists.

“The commute into Boston has gotten so much harder for those coming from the north of the city,” he said. “With the Tobin Bridge project, it’s only going to get worse.”

Higher fares

Last month, the MBTA’s fiscal control board hiked fares for commuter rail and subway service by an average of 6 percent, beginning July 1.

Under the plan, commuter rail prices will vary by region, but the maximum increase for a one-way fare is 75 cents.

Monthly commuter rail passes increase from $5.50 to $27.75, depending on the region.

Approval of the increases came over the objections of lawmakers and others who say the added costs will hurt low-income riders and dampen ridership.

T riders packed public hearings to voice opposition to higher fares, with many arguing that the T needs to do more to improve reliability and service.

Gov. Charlie Baker has defended the fare hike, saying incremental increases avoid hitting riders with steep ones such as the 23 percent average hike that occurred in 2012.

The MBTA plans to spend $8 billion over the next five years to upgrade tracks, signals and other infrastructure.