Among the budget items being negotiated on Beacon Hill are increases in funding for the state's Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs).
The RTAs have not received an increase in state assistance or an inflation adjustment in more than three years, though they have seen increases in operating costs for negotiated wages, health care, fuel, and insurance. Governor Baker has proposed level funding at $80 million, the House version of the budget calls for $82 million, and the Senate's version calls for $88 million.
Regional transit administrators and their supporters say that if they don't receive the proposed $88 million, there will be further service cuts for the more than 32 million riders who use the 15 RTAs throughout the Commonwealth. Most riders are low-income or elderly people who have few, if any, alternative transportation options.
If RTA funding is increased to $88 million, the Pioneer Valley RTA — which serves Springfield and surrounding communities — will not have to implement service cuts for the second year in a row that would affect 39 of the agency's 43 bus routes, according to the Massachusetts Association of Regional Transit Authorities. The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority is facing a $3.1 million deficit and already raised fares by 20 percent last year.
Worcester Regional Transit has a $900,000 deficit and would have to eliminate all weekend service and reduce service on four roundtrip routes by 50 percent if the additional money is not approved. Greater Attleboro-Taunton Regional Transit Authority is considering imposing a 25-cent fare hike and bus line consolidations if the funding is not forthcoming.
The RTAs are supportive of the House and Senate inclusion of a RTA Task Force on Performance and Funding. The RTAs believe this is a unique opportunity for MassDOT and the RTAs to work cooperatively to develop policies that recognize the diverse communities serviced by the RTAs. This Task Force should create a blueprint for the RTAs and MassDOT to move forward in providing better service to all public transit riders throughout the Commonwealth.