Obviously there is large concern regarding the impacts of the planned MBTA fare increases. Consumers who may be understandably upset about the hikes need to take into account that the MBTA is severely constrained fiscally by its huge capital debts and sizable operating deficits. Therefore, concerns should probably be raised with your state representatives first and the MBTA second.
While it is true that public transit does not break even (with the exception of some urban bus routes), and that commuter rail especially represents a handful of subsidy dollars per trip, it is also true that no form of surface transportation in Massachusetts comes close to the subsidy levels supplied to those who drive over Boston’s newly reconstructed Big Dig roadways.
With an annualized cost per year of about $1.5 billion ($15 plus billion/10) and with roughly 75 million vehicle trips per year, the Big Dig is providing $15 to $20 of subsidy per vehicle trip. Those who use Boston’s Big Dig pay only a tiny fraction of the project costs with their gas taxes. It is a shame that the MBTA fare hikes will not be accompanied by new road financing mechanisms.
A $5 toll on all entering Boston via I-93 and other major highways would raise over $300 million per year. Similarly, each $.10 in gas taxes can raise over $300 million per year.
Although not politically feasible – given the marketing skills and courage that would be required of our elected officials – imagine what a $.25 gas tax per gallon hike (or the equivalent) could do:
1. With $.01 Massachusetts could quickly build the best bike and community path network in the US.
2. With $.04 distributed fairly to all 351 cities and towns, the Commonwealth could have the most pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and downtowns in the country.
3. With $.05 spent on repairing bridges and roads, our crumbling old infrastructure would quickly catch up to the rest of the nation in state of good repair.
4. With $.05 spent on transit outside Boston’s core communities – including commuter rail and flexible transit for our aging suburbs – we would revitalize second-tier cities and reduce car dependence.
5. With $.05 spent on core public transit, we could significantly reduce air pollution and support carfree (or car-reduced) households and the businesses that employ and serve them.
6. With $.05 spent on debt reduction, we could restore long-term fiscal health to our most important transportation agencies and support a much more sustainable society.
The average car dependent suburbanite uses about one gallon of gas per day. A quarter a day to transform our transportation systems for the better is not much compared to a latte or movie rental.
With the MBTA fare hikes we are expecting our poorest residents and our most environmentally benign to pay dearly. Maybe the rest of our local and pass-by travelers should be contributing too.