By Eric Moskowitz, Globe Staff
Get ready to dig deeper to ride the MBTA.
Riders on the public transit system would pay an average of 23 percent more and most service cuts would be spared under a budget-balancing plan announced this morning by the T.
The changes, to take effect July 1, are significantly less severe than the two proposals unveiled by the T in January and widely criticized at hearings throughout Greater Boston in recent months. Those proposals would have relied entirely on fare increases and service cuts to make up the $160 million deficit the MBTA faces for the upcoming budget year.
Instead, the T hopes to use $51 million in one-time funds from the state’s motor vehicle inspection program to soften the blow on transit riders, Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey said. Other sources — including $7 million in leftover snow and ice money from the mild winter, and an unexpected $5 million from a deal to lease the North Station parking garage — help reduce the amount that will need to be made up by transit riders to about $90 million, Davey said.
Davey warned in a news conference that the plan was just a one-year fix — and that more unpopular decisions could be ahead.
“I can’t emphasize enough this is a one-year solution. And all things being the same, we will be back in the same position a year from now, looking at service cuts and potentially more fare increases,” he said.
He said the debt service costs on the T’s billions of dollars in debt were rising, along with such costs as employee health insurance and providing service to the disabled. Fare revenue cannot keep pace, he said.
Under the plan unveiled today, subway riders using a CharlieCard would pay $2 instead of $1.70 — an 18 percent increase — while bus riders using the prepaid card would pay $1.50 instead of $1.25, a 20 percent hike. A monthly bus and subway pass would rise to $70, from $59.
Students and seniors would still pay discounted fares, but their discount would shrink. And fares for The Ride, the door-to-door service for the disabled, would double from $2 to $4 for riders in the region’s inner core while rising to $5 in a new “premium” area in outlying suburban neighborhoods, Davey said.
Instead of deep cuts to service, the T will eliminate four of its nearly 200 bus routes and reduce runs on 14 additional bus routes. It will also eliminate weekend service on three commuter rail lines, Greenbush, Plymouth/Kingston, and Needham.
But the T will largely preserve threatened ferry service and will continue running the Green Line’s E Line trolley to Brigham Circle on weekends — stopping short of Heath but not eliminating it, allowing riders to reach the Longwood Medical Area and nearby art museums — Davey said. Ferry fares will be raised about 35 percent, and the Quincy boat will be eliminated on weekends, with the goal of ending public subsidies for the ferry lines but keeping them operating.
“We’ve spent the last two months out at 30 hearings listening to customers, and our proposal I think reflects what we’ve heard from our customers,” Davey said. “Overwhelmingly, we heard from folks that they were opposed to cuts in service, and we should really look to try to minimize cuts as much as we could — but at the same time realizing the fiscal realities that many customers said they would pay a little more to maintain service.”
Governor Deval Patrick told reporters at the State House that he agreed the plan was a one-year fix and vowed to put the MBTA’s problems at the top of the legislative agenda next year.
“This is neither a permanent nor a comprehensive solution,” he said. “The T will be back in this situation next year.”
“I don’t favor short-term patches,” he said, adding at another point, “This solution is all about patches and plugs.”
Patrick would not offer any suggestions for how to fix the problem, saying, “I’m going to reserve my judgment on what the best solution should be.”
The T last raised fares Jan. 1, 2007. The coming increases — which still need approval from the MBTA board — would keep T fares competitive with those in other major cities, Davey said.
The transfer from the vehicle inspection fund would require the Legislature to tweak a state law that requires that money to be spent on motor vehicle air quality; the money is a surplus remaining from when the inspection sticker was raised to $29, with most of the fund invested in modernizing motor vehicle inspections, Davey said.
“As we read the statute, we didn’t believe the MBTA fell under that, but frankly I can’t think of any other better air-quality improvement than getting people on public transportation and out of their cars. So we believe this is an appropriate use of that surplus, to at least give the MBTA fiscal flexibility to keep service running,” he said.
The T also for the first time will ask Ride customers to volunteer information about the nature of their trips, a move the MBTA has been reluctant to make in the past for legal reasons. But some of those trips are medically related and could be eligible for federal Medicaid reimbursement, a move that could yield $5 million but would require legislative action to allow the MBTA and the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services to coordinate on the matter, Davey said.
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz.