GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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March 23, 2013

Seeking fare solutions

Transit group lobbies for funding alternatives

Massachusetts’s public transportation system, facing its usual heap of debt, is leaning again toward fare hikes and service cuts to fill the gap, but a coalition of state organizations is eyeing alternatives to providing help for the MBTA and also to boost long-term highway and other transportation maintenance.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority cites a drop in ridership numbers as a motivation behind considering cutting all weekend commuter rail trains from the schedule. But Transportation for Massachusetts, a coalition of organizations in the state focused on creating and improving transportation options, says that any idea of parking many trains for the weekend and cutting less-frequented weekday trips will simply push commuters back into their vehicles.

”It’s the wrong incentive. It’s literally moving backwards,” said the coalition’s advocacy director, Elizabeth Weyant.

Cape Ann’s Rockport/Newburyport line on the rail has seen ridership hold steady over the years, usually clocking in around 5.2 million rides annually. The line clocked 5.1 million rides in the fiscal year 2012, only a slight decrease from the five-year annual high of 5.4 million rides in 2009.

Even since the last fare hike in July, when the price of a monthly zone nine pass, for example, jumped $64 from $265 to $329, and a zone one pass shifted from $135 to $173, commuters to and from Cape Ann have kept paying. Ridership on just the Rockport section of the line during the beach-traffic-heavy month of that July hit 194,622, and hovered at about 178,178 in January.

Rockport resident Bob Delaney sat on a Railroad Avenue bench Friday afternoon, waiting for a local CATA bus as the 1:19 commuter rail train pulled into the Gloucester station. Though Delaney utilized local buses Friday, rather than the train, he frequents the commuter rail and depends solely on public transportation and the occasional rental car.

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