GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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July 24, 2013

MBTA budget aid pegs hikes in '15, '17

BOSTON — While senior transportation officials and state lawmakers continued to spar verbally over revenues and major expansion projects prioritized by the Patrick administration, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s chief financial officer said Tuesday he believes the financing plan passed by the Legislature would be sufficient to balance the MBTA’s budget for the next five years, but that the agency would likely be looking for new fare hikes in 2015 and 2017.

MBTA CFO Jonathan Davis said the revenues under the Legislature’s plan would allow the beleaguered agency to purchase new Red and Orange Line cars for its city system, which he described as “critical” given that cars currently in service are 35 to 45 years old.

But while Davis said the T was “hopefully” done with larger fare increases — like the one tacked on for commuter rail riders and others last year, he also reminded lawmakers that the state’s plans, even with the infusion of new revenue from tax hikes, call for more regular fare increases.

“It’s 5 percent in 2015 and it’s 5 percent in 2017,” Davis said.

A potential short-term solution to the MBTA’s short-term budget woes would bring some sense of relief to riders to and from Cape Ann, where the MBTA carries passengers to and from Boston’s North Station and Rockport, passing through Gloucester stations on Railroad and Essex avenues, and in downtown Manchester. The agency’s 2012 budget crunch also initially sparked threats to cut weekend and other commuter rail service, but the MBTA backed off that proposal after drawing widespread North Shore opposition, including from the Gloucester City Council, Rockport’s Board of Selectmen, and the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce.

The MBTA’s budget situation played out at the State House Tuesday while state transportation officials warned of the fiscal impact if tolls on the western portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike come down in four years, while one House lawmaker called the warning “scare tactics.”

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