Lawmakers and transportation advocates came out in full force to support the initiative again during a Transportation Committee hearing on Wednesday, six months after the government’s Charlie Baker vetoed the low-income fare program in a transportation bond bill.
“It is clear that without a legislative mandate, Gov. Baker and the MBTA under their direction will delay and block these essential programs,” said Colick Williams, an organizer for Community Labor United, which represents Boston’s working class families. “Struggles and victims are still crying out for relief. They need a more affordable and equitable tee.”
After a string of testimony targeting Baker, State Sen. Joseph Boncore, D-Winthrop, the chairman of the committee, reminded the audience that “the president (State Representative William Strauss) and I thought low-income rents were a wonderful idea.” were, and included them in the Transport Bonds Bill. Unfortunately, His Excellency the Governor thought otherwise,” he said.
State Representative Adrian Madaro, D-Boston, filed the low-income fare program bill, which would apply to both the MBTA and the regional transit authority.
Many also testified on a pair of bills that would order free busing pilot programs at both the MBTA and regional transit authorities. Just this week, Boston’s Acting Mayor Kim Janney launched a three-month pilot program for fare-free rides on Bus Route 28, which runs between Roxbury and Mattapan. More than two-thirds of riders on the route qualify as low income.
Worcester phased out fares for its WRTA buses during the pandemic to reduce contact between drivers and passengers by the end of 2021, which Worcester State Representative David LeBoeuf said kept ridership higher than other comparable transit systems has gone.
Phineas Baxandal, a senior analyst at the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said rent collection eats up a significant portion of revenue. In the case of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, 77 cents of every dollar earned in pre-pandemic fares went back to fare collection efforts. He suggested that some $5 billion in federal US rescue plan funds be used to make up the difference.
“I can’t think of any other revenue source in Massachusetts that worsens the disparity for every dollar collected than bus fares,” Baxandal said.