Whether or not the MBTA takes up a suggestion by lawmakers that it hold off on fare increases until the two-year Tobin Bridge project is complete, the notion laid bare the current state of the Massachusetts transportation system: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The MBTA fiscal control board makes the case — rather convincingly — that the increased revenue is needed to improve the state’s subway and commuter rail service. And as riders over the past few years can tell you, the upgrades are entirely necessary. The system’s reliability issues continue to push people back into their cars and onto Route 1 and interstates 93 and 95, making for one of the worst workday commutes in America.
For many people, that commute is about to get worse with the much-needed renovation of the Tobin, one of the longest bridges of its type in the country.
Transportation officials, preparing for monstrous traffic tie ups, have encouraged drivers to instead use public transportation — the same subways and commuter trains many locals find lacking.
That will be more expensive beginning July 1, when commuter rail and subway fares rise by an average of 6 percent. Monthly commuter rail passes will go up anywhere from $5.50 to $27.75, depending on the region. T officials say they need the money to help pay for an estimated $8 billion in upgrades over the next five years. Given the state of the state’s railways, it’s hard to argue the work isn’t necessary.
But that’s cold comfort to commuters, especially those facing a ride down Route 1 over the next two years, into and out of a Tobin project that is expected to cost more than $215 million on its own.
“The dual burden of increased commute times and increased cost of public transportation … creates a significant dilemma for residents of Northeastern Massachusetts,” a bipartisan group of 30 state lawmakers wrote in a letter to the MBTA fiscal board. “Fairness dictates that for the duration of the Tobin Bridge and Route 1 Repair Project, affected commuters deserve relief rather than increased burdens.”
In a perfect world, they’re right. But for anyone crawling along in a miasma of exhaust fumes on a jam packed Route 93 or waiting for hours on a disabled train between Boston and Salem in the middle of a North Shore winter can tell you, this is not a perfect world.
Cutting off revenue to the T will only exacerbate that agency’s problems, no matter how you feel about the system’s management over the past decade. Delaying upgrades to equipment and service will only lengthen commuters’ misery.