With a projected budget deficit of $330 million for the 2016 fiscal year, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority began to search for cost-cutting measures to avoid rider inconveniences at the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee Meeting on Monday.
One service, as outlined by director of planning and schedules Melissa Dullea, is Paratransit Inc., which offers The Ride to disabled customers who would normally not be served by fixed MBTA transit routes such as the bus or T trains.
Even though the passenger pays $2 per ride, the operating cost for paratransit is $40 per rider, Dullea said. The difference is made through MBTA subsidies to the private companies contracted to provide the transit.
“We’re currently spending $100 million on The Ride,” she said. “With the cost doubling every six years, it’s our fastest growing sector in the MBTA.”
An aging population will not lend itself positively to the issue either.
“The cost per trip is increasing, along with the rapid ridership growth,” Dullea said. “As Baby Boomers grow, so will this service.”
In response to calls for The Ride program to be privatized, budget director Mary Runkel said she is pessimistic about potential private sector interest.
“Private entities want to make money and I can’t imagine one that would want to take this on,” Runkel said. “We have private businesses working with us now, but that’s under huge subsidies from the MBTA.”
Ezra Morrison, a Medford resident, said he has multiple elderly family members who use The Ride as a means of transportation and has worries about the potential cuts to the program.
“It’s probably the thing that’s causing the MBTA to lose the most money,” Morrison said, “so in that way it should be cut, but if that’s the case, all they should cut is the bare minimum.”
The MBTA has yet to come up with any concrete proposals to solve the deficit, Dullea said, but hopes to devise three proposals of realistic scenarios.
Dullea said the goal of the organization is to minimize any negative impacts on customers.
“In general, we get a more palatable reaction through fare increases as opposed to service cuts,” she said. “But our general strategy is to treat all modes equally. Everything is on the table.”
Dullea also said that public transportation riders in other cities would not complain about increases in ticket prices.
“I would much prefer a fare increase than service cuts. I’d rather pay $3 than not have lines for buses and trains,” Morrison said. “In New York, they tolerate these increases. Frankly, I think Bostonians are more whiney than New Yorkers.”