The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will lose $161 million this year, and $100 million next year. As a result, subway, train, and bus fares are increasing, along with a new and unpopular state-wide proposal to add a 1-cent-per vehicle-miles-traveled in an effort to bail out the MBTA.
The city of Boston Massachusetts and the surrounding towns are the crucible of revolution in the United States. The area is home to world class universities, museums, and one of the nation’s oldest public transportation systems managed by the MBTA. Yet even with MBTA ridership hitting an all time high, the MBTA faced a $161 million budget deficit this year, and another $100 million budget deficit next year. This is very bad news in an economy that is growing slowly, or not growing at all depending on the analysis.
While questions are swirling about what doomed the MBTA financially, a few long term scenarios have been floated by the MBTA to fix the financial mess. These scenarios include raising fares up to 43% — happening in July — cutting numerous bus lines, all weekend commuter rail trips, and all ferry routes, and now a $0.01 tax on vehicle miles traveled.
The biggest mode shift that will result from the MBTA’s proposals is an increase in car trips. It has been estimated that total daily vehicle miles traveled will increase by between 430,837 to 626,060 miles if fares are increased and routes are cut. That is the equivalent of between 55,000 and 92,000 more cars on the road each day. That means more traffic congestion, lost productivity for workers sitting in traffic, and more air pollution. Carbon dioxide emissions alone will increase by approximately 50,000 tons per year.
As for the $0.01 tax on vehicle miles traveled, it is a hypothetical right now. However, Massachusetts is not the only state looking at such a tax. States across the union are looking for new ways to procure income and replace the obsolete gas tax at the pump with a Vehicle Mileage Tax. The current Federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. However, President Obama has ordered a 40% increase by in fleet-wide fuel economy by, 2016 so now states are looking for ways to supplement the old tax without increasing the so-called “pain-at-the-pump.” A $0.01 tax on vehicle miles traveled brings up all kinds of questions; does the tax count if you drive out of state? What if someone steals your car; do you get the stolen miles back?
This is a big issue right now in Massachusetts and is really making a divide between pro MBTA folks — think pro mass transportation like rail and bus — and anti MBTA folks. With the fair increases and sliding cost of gas many people are starting to second guess the economic value of the MBTA in the state and are considering turning back to their cars in order to do their daily commute, even with a hypothetical $0.01 tax on miles traveled. The first Revolution started over a tax on tea; will a tax on miles traveled launch a second Revolution?
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison