NEWBURYPORT — Commuter rail passengers in Greater Newburyport will have to dig deeper in their pockets starting July 1, as fares will be jumping as much as 29 percent to help the MBTA plug an estimated $160 million deficit.
After many hours of debate, the MBTA's Board of Directors yesterday voted 4-1 to raise fares an average of 23 percent as part of its $1.8 billion fiscal 2013 budget.
As part of the plan, riders heading to Boston from Newburyport will have to shell out $2.25 more for a seat on the rail.
Currently, passengers leaving Newburyport bound for Boston's North Station pay $7.75 each way, with a monthly pass costing $250. Starting July 1, a one-way fare will cost $10, an increase of 29 percent, with monthly passes jumping $64 to $314, a 25.6 percent increase.
The MBTA board's decision caps months of rancorous debate that included several meetings in various communities, including Haverhill, Salem and Boston. Each meeting drew large crowds, with numerous people expressing intense dissatisfaction with the T's plans to raise fares while cutting back service to many vulnerable commuters. The Newburyport commuter rail line was spared cuts in service in the final plan.
Yesterday, commuter rail riders waiting for the 4:30 p.m. train in Newburyport expressed sharp disappointment over the T's decision to raise rates.
"Not very happy about it; service is so poor now, there's no way they're going to make their service better," Syd Farber of Salem said.
Heading home after his shift at Berkshire Manufactured Products in Newburyport, Bob Power of Everett said he had no choice but to find a way to fit the fare hike into his already taxed budget.
"We're at their mercy," Power said. "That's how I feel. I could stamp my feet, but are they going to listen?"
Longtime commuter rail rider John Ward of Amesbury in a separate interview said the fare hike wouldn't correspond with any added value to the rider.
"I feel like I'm subsidizing mismanagement. Will it pay for newer trainstrue No. Will it mean fewer delays due to switching problems in Beverly? I don't think so," Ward said. "That said, I've been riding the train to Boston for 11 years and this fare increase will not change the way I commute. But the increase will hurt some more than others."
Transit advocates have issued repeated calls for Gov. Deval Patrick's administration and legislative leaders to intervene and draft a comprehensive transportation financing package, but Beacon Hill leaders have not found common ground on that politically dicey subject, despite continued emphasis on the system's shortcomings and its importance to economic growth and development.
"It's time for the state to step up to the plate and do its part to be part of the solution," Kristina Egan, director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, said yesterday.
Legislators on Beacon Hill may be able to cut into the MBTA's expected budget shortfall before the end of the current fiscal year, as lawmakers are contemplating whether to use $51 million in vehicle inspection funds.
Egan added that unless the Legislature quickly acts to help fill the gap, the T will have to put back on the table higher fare increases and the more severe service cuts. Elected officials have the ability to further reduce the fare hike by plugging more of the hole — beyond just the $51 million proposed by the MBTA.
Egan said the fare hikes would be hitting people who are low income and particularly those on fixed incomes.
"We're also concerned that the fare hikes are quite high for commuter rail riders," Egan said, adding people who have a choice aren't going to take the T for the sake of climate change and air pollution.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.