The MBTA has embarked on a difficult journey. With the COVID pandemic drastically cutting ridership and revenues, the T must plot a course over the next fiscal year to cope with a budget deficit that could be as much as $600 million — or one-third of its operating budget.

This week MBTA officials introduced what they are calling the “Forging Ahead” plan, an effort to focus the agency's operating and capital resources on the customers who depend most on the MBTA for frequent and reliable service. The priority will be providing transit for people currently riding, and those most likely to come back in the next year. But it is clear that without additional federal or state financial aid, the agency will not be able to afford to provide the service it did pre-COVID.

Over the next three months, the T’s Board will be grappling with what Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack calls "painful decisions" about what service stays and what will have to go.

Advocates like Chris Dempsey of Transportation for Massachusetts warn that cutting service and increasing the cost is not the way to go.

“We cannot afford to let the MBTA fall into a death spiral of increased fares and decreased service, which leads to just more increased fares and less and less service as fewer and fewer people ride it," said Dempsey.

The answer, he says, is more government funding to avoid the worst of the service cuts.

The Fiscal Management and Control Board will continue its deliberations at its next meeting on Monday with the goal of coming up with a plan for reconfiguring service by the end of the year.

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