MBTA's fiscal crisis hinders economic growth and harms the evironment

Originally posted on BostInno

The MBTA is facing a fiscal crisis today, but the resolution to that crisis will have repercussions for many years. Drastic service cuts and fare increases will not only burden today’s commuters and travelers; they will also impede economic growth and damage the region’s environment for decades to come. The challenges facing the MBTA are real, and they require transformative solutions that will help to make the region more prosperous, more livable, and healthier.

That is the vision of MetroFuture, Greater Boston’s regional plan for growth and preservation over the next 25 years. One of MetroFuture’s key goals is to double the number of trips made on public transit, by focusing new development near existing and future stations. Specifically, MetroFuture anticipates that two-thirds of all new housing and jobs from 2000 – 2030 will occur within one mile of fixed route transit service, allowing people to live, work, and play with less reliance on the automobile. The result will be slower growth in congestion, improved air quality, and better access to labor for employers, when compared to a future scenario based on trends of the 1980s and 1990s.

More recent trends indicate that a growing number of residents and developers are on board with these goals: one third of new population and housing unit growth from 2000 – 2010 was located within a mile of a subway or commuter rail stop. And there are currently over 250 private-sector developments planned or proposed near subway and commuter rail stations, which collectively could create 36,000 housing units and space for 92,000 new jobs between now and 2035.

Unfortunately, steep fare increases and deep service cuts will prevent Greater Boston from reaching these goals. The scenarios proposed by the MBTA to close a $161 million budget deficit result in between a 12 – 16 percent annual ridership loss, as transit users switch to other modes because of the increased cost or loss of service. The two scenarios floated by the T include raising fares up to 43 percent and cutting numerous bus lines, all weekend commuter rail trips, and all ferry routes, among others.

The biggest mode shift that will result from the MBTA’s proposals is an increase in auto trips. It’s estimated that total daily vehicle miles traveled will increase by between 430,837 – 626,060 miles under the two scenarios, the equivalent of 55,000 – 92,000 more cars on the road each day. That means more traffic congestion, lost productivity for workers sitting in congestion, and of course more air pollution.

Carbon dioxide emissions alone, the leading cause of global warming, will increase by approximately 50,000 tons per year, which is the equivalent of the carbon dioxide emitted annually by a small oil burning power plant.

To make sure that MetroFuture’s transit ridership goals are achieved, the T needs a long term solution that addresses the agency’s $5.5 billion debt that, without action, will force more draconian fare increase and service cuts in the years ahead on top of the current proposals.

In the short-term, the T will need help from different partners. T riders will certainly have to pay more and sacrifice some service, but the Governor and the legislature need to help too. The T’s sister transportation authority, Massport, should also pitch in by supporting the operating costs of Silver Line service that bring thousands of customers to the airport. Other creative ideas will also need to be explored. But in the end the T will need a third scenario, one that includes funding this year from the legislature to help plug part of the MBTA’s structural deficit.

-Eric Bourassa, MAPC’s Transportation Manager