Extended hours for the T seem distant, but higher fares may be coming soon

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By Hao Lu, News Correspondent

“If you look at the new plan, only about $115 million dollars will actually go to the T for the next fiscal year. The T has $118 million deficit, so it almost fills up that hole, and there is still a $3 million gap they have to deal with,” said Stuart Spina, member of the T Riders Union, a public interest committee that advocates for improved public transit services in the Boston area.

“So the fact is that if this plan goes forward, the T system will stay at where it is right now and they can’t expend any services,” he said.

MBTA spokesperson Kelly Smith said that cost is the main factor for them to decide whether to take any further steps on extending services. Another consideration is that over the late night hours a lot of maintenance and repair works need to be done on the system. If the T extends its operating hours, that time will be lost.

“No decisions has been made yet. We can’t even consider late night services until our financial status is stabilized,” Smith said. “Right now we are focusing on looking at the new proposal and then hopefully being able to have this funding properly so that we can not only maintain the services we have currently, but also do the things we want to do, like late night services and the green line extension.”

Smith said that currently the MBTA has a very large deficit.

“There is a serious gap between the money we need and the money we got. We have an increasingly aging system that costs more and more money to maintain and to repair,” she said. “We understand why customers want it and we want to do it too, but we need to be able to pay for it. Right now we are looking at all of our options in order to make our budget. We don’t want to raise fare or cut service, but we have to be prepared for those options.”

State Representative Sean Garballey, a Democrat from Arlington who drafted a bill in 2011 calling for the MBTA to extend late night services on Friday and Saturday nights, said he believed that making sure there is enough money to make late night services a reality is not only best for public safety, but it’s also a better economic move.

“I would love to fund it. It’s my number one priority to fund the late night service, as I think it is the best deal for the Commonwealth,” he said. “But obviously because of costs for many reasons, we may have to increase the fares not substantially but a little bit during these late night hours, and I think most people will be more than willing to pay that because it is still 50 percent or even 60, 70 percent cheaper than taking a taxi cab.”

Barry Bluestone, director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, said that he would see problems without extending hours on the T.

“[Not having late night services] is really hurting people who are taking any jobs they can find to work in the night shift, and young people, particularly, who would like to see the hours of the city extended, not just the T, but to be able to take advantages of the city 24 hours a day,” Bluestone said. “It makes the city more inviting as you can get around by public transit most of the hours of the day and night.”

The House is going to vote on the new plan on Monday before it goes to the Senate and the governor.

“It is still sensitive, but I would assume that the current proposal would not be able to fund late night services. I will still  support it and advocate for it,” Garballey said.

The MBTA plans to release their budget plan for next fiscal year on April 11, which will likely provide a clearer picture of the T’s future.