Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is set to unveil a nearly-$190 million plan to rescue the troubled MBTA system.
Baker said the $65 million, or 53 percent, increase in state aid he's proposing for the T for the year starting July 1 will be carefully earmarked for things like a winter resiliency fund and emergency equipment repairs. "I don't view what we're doing with the MBTA as a blank check" but as an expression of "a willingness to work with them," Baker said.
An administration spokesman says the funding boost to be included in the state budget the Republican governor sends to the Legislature on Wednesday will increase the total subsidy to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to $187 million.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whose chamber would have to approve the T increase Baker seeks, sounded skeptical, saying he believes the legislature has taken many actions that set up the T to survive this winter but its managers failed. "The Legislature's reforms and funding have positioned the MBTA well," DeLeo said, and so the service meltdown as six feet of snow landed between Jan. 21 and Feb. 9 was "disappointing at best."
"Planning for extreme weather is essential, especially in New England, " DeLeo said. "Good management considers these problems in advance ... The MBTA's first priority must be to manage and maintain the system as it exists together."
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The MBTA has been facing significant delays and cancellations for over a month following heavy amounts of snowfall and frigid temperatures.
Separately, a key finance committee of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors met to review five proposals to give T riders refunds or compensatory future discounts or free service to make up for a month of terrible service. The plans would take anywhere from two weeks to three months to implement and would return a maximum of $10.5 million, total, to riders. Even then, many members of the board sound skeptical.
DOT chairman John Jenkins said: "One of the things I'd be concerned about us setting a precedent ... that every time there's a storm, I get my money back."
"We don't have the money," DOT director Janice Loux said. "The resources that we're using right now to figure this out is just appalling to me."
Baker's transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, who also serves on the DOT board, said, "There are options for refunds, but there's also $40 million in storm costs and lost revenue that the MBTA has to deal with. I think our first responsibility is to make sure we have a balanced budget for the operating year."
"It's going to be a very tough issue for the board," Pollack said. "I actually have not formed an opinion. I'm very sympathetic to passengers that paid for trips that were not made. But I'm also very focused on making sure that we have enough invested in the system so that it works better in the future. I think, in the end, the most important priority for our passengers is to know their trains will be there when they need them in the future."
The backlash against the service prompted General Manager Beverly Scott to resign.
In an earlier press conference, Scott said, "We are running an extremely aged system that is getting a pounding every single day."
Because of the significant delays to the commuter rail system, the company that operates the system, Keolis, has been fined more than $434,000.
The fines come after after nearly two-thirds of the trains were late or canceled during the heavy snowfalls that pounded the region last month, transit officials said Monday.