Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pre-Independence Day Commute

This morning's commute on the p508 was nice and easy ... train arrived in Grafton at 7:09 and we were at South Station at 8:19. It was not as crowded today as it has been all week, I'll bet a lot of folks are getting a jump start on the long weekend by taking today off.

It looks like high gas prices are also putting the screws to the MBTA. While ridership is up across bus, subway and commuter rail lines, the higher cost of gas is costing the MBTA over $28 million extra, money that is currently not budgeted.

According to a report on Channel 5's website, riders now fear the MBTA may consider cutting services or will institute another fare hike. A member of the T's advisory board said fares only make up 30 percent of the agency's revenue and most of its funds come from the sales tax. The problem is, fuel expenses are just too high right now. The MBTA's Rider Oversight Committee is also concerned, so much so that it plans to send a letter to the governor and legislators blowing the horn on a possible budget derailment.

It's interesting to note that the majority of revenues for the MBTA come from the state sales tax ... I was able to find some information in the 2009 budget about the sales tax, its importance for the MTBA budget and the debt load shouldered by the MBTA:

Sales tax revenue, our largest source of revenue, has grown less than expected and has not met even the most pessimistic minimums assumed at the start of forward funding. Sales tax growth in the 10 years prior to the enactment of forward funding saw an average annual increase of 6.5%. Since 2001 it has averaged only 1.6%. A shortfall of $200 million has required more reliance on debt financing to fund a significant portion of the capital program as well as providing less revenue for the operating budget. The debt burden we carry is perhaps one of the highest in the industry. Total debt outstanding is over $5 billion. Annual principal and interest payments consume more than 26% of revenues and will continue to grow without some type of relief. Left un-checked, the debt burden will limit our ability to provide the quality and quantity of service our customers expect.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the Authority is the expected rise in principal and interest costs over the next several years. With the continued slow growth in the dedicated sales tax revenue, these costs will consume an ever increasing amount of revenue each year. Unless corrected or mitigated, this will compromise the Authority’s ability to continue to provide the service levels funded in the Fiscal 2009 budget in future years.

In other news, I've seen billboards in South Station for a new program called "Buy Before You Board." I was able to find some information on regarding this new ticketing procedure for the commuter rail. Over the next few weeks, MBTA officials plan to test a new ticket-purchasing procedure at three commuter rail stations heading outbound, to measure the best way to collect fares. This campaign will require commuter rail passengers to buy tickets before they board the train, rather than from a conductor on board. The campaign will rotate shifts at the North, South, and Back Bay stations. A spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. said officials have received complaints that conductors during rush hour do not have time to collect all tickets on board, allowing some passengers to ride for free.

I think this is a step in the right direction, especially for us monthly pass holders who feel that we get short shifted when passes/tickets aren't collected. I would like to give props to the conductors on the p529/6:15 PM train last night ... although all of the aisles were mobbed (our train was 5 single cars instead of the usual 5 double/1 single) ... they collected passes from everyone.

Have a safe and happy 4th everyone!

No comments: