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CLF and Northeastern University develop framework for financially stable transit system in MA

(Photo credit: Stephanie Chappe)

In anticipation of a state Joint Transportation Committee hearing on April 12, today, CLF and the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University released two reports to address the financial woes of public transportation in Massachusetts. The reports were based on conclusions gleaned from a blue-ribbon summit that the two groups co-hosted last November, which brought leading transit finance experts from around the country together to explore and develop solutions that can help build sustainable funding mechanisms for transit currently available in Massachusetts and allow expansion of those services over time. In addition, the reports are supplemented by a background paper describing the financial status of public transportation in Massachusetts and a series of options papers discussing the pros and cons of potential solutions to the problem.

Public transportation in Massachusetts is facing a stark financial crisis. The MBTA alone has a backlog of $3 billion of needed repairs and an increasing gap in its operating budget. The fifteen Regional Transit Authorities around the state, on the other hand, are forced to underserve their current customers because they lack a combined $125 million per year required just to meet present demand on existing bus routes.

Despite the fact that over the years they have received a lion’s share of transportation dollars, the state’s roads and bridges are also in desperate need of repairs. A few years ago, the Transportation Finance Commission projected that Massachusetts will have a $15-$19 billion gap in transportation resources over the next 20 years. While the existence and extent of this financial crisis is well documented, few solutions are currently on the table because so many stakeholders and policymakers mistakenly believe that transit finance in Massachusetts is an intractable and overwhelming problem for which no viable solution exists.

The important lessons learned from the summit include that:

  • A financially stable public transportation system requires a healthy and diverse portfolio of revenue sources, rather than the current all-eggs-in-one-basket approach. The current funding system relies heavily on a small number of sometimes volatile funding sources, such as the sales tax.  The experts underscored the importance of  identifying brand new streams of revenue.
  • With the chronic under-pricing of automobile travel, raising transit fares is not the answer.  Increased fares, at this time, would send the wrong price signals to transportation users and would create more incentive for people to drive, ultimately reducing the great economic, environmental, and social benefits of public transportation.
  • Along with new revenue sources, such as vehicle-miles-traveled fees, universal transit pass programs, and increased registry fees, as well as further cost-efficiencies, a change in fare structures, rather than raising fares, and maximizing ridership are key strategies for generating user revenue equitably and affordably.

Read the full reports, background and option papers:

  • Blue-Ribbon Summit Summary
  • Blue-Ribbon Summit Framework
  • Background Paper
  • Option Papers
Publisher: Conservation Law Foundation on Apr 8, 2011