MBTA considering options to compensate riders for snow woes

AP News
Posted: Mar 03, 2015 6:01 PM
MBTA considering options to compensate riders for snow woes

BOSTON (AP) — The Boston-area public transit agency outlined several options Tuesday for compensating passengers who endured weeks of delays, cancellations and system-wide shutdowns as more than 8 feet of snow battered the region.

The possibilities ranged from offering one week of free fares throughout the system; rebates or discounts for customers who bought monthly passes from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority only to see many of their regular trains canceled; or allowing commuter rail passengers to reuse their February pass for another month.

Jonathan Davis, the MBTA's chief financial officer, said the options carried a range of estimated price tags, including $6 million in lost revenue for a week of free fares and about $10.5 million for allowing the use of monthly passes for an extra month.

The MBTA has incurred an estimated $36.5 million in storm-related costs to date, including snow removal, overtime, substitute buses and lost fares, Davis told the finance committee of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Some of the money could be recovered through insurance, federal disaster assistance or other means, he said.

The MBTA — which has blamed some of the breakdowns on aging equipment — also said Tuesday its latest accounting of the system's "state of good repair" backlog had reached $6.7 billion, more than double the last estimate given in 2009 by the nation's oldest public transit system. The backlog is defined as the total amount it would cost to bring all assets up to ideal working order.

The MassDOT board is expected to decide on March 11 whether to approve any of the passenger compensation options. The board has no legal obligation to provide refunds, and members appeared split on whether to offer any reimbursement. Some contended the MBTA should use all available money to upgrade the system, but others contended a gesture was needed to regain the trust of the riding public.

"I think one of the fundamental principles is that people pay money and they want to receive the services and consideration for the money that they have paid," said Dominic Blue, a board member who is a vice president of the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.

Another member, Janice Loux, said she opposed any kind of rebate or discount because it would do little to restore the faith of commuters.

"Their trust is regained by running a reliable system on both the commuter rail side and the MBTA side that is safe, that is on time and that they can depend on," said Loux, a longtime labor union official.

State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters she was undecided.

"I'm very sympathetic to the passengers ... but I'm also very focused on making sure we invest enough in the system so it works better in the future," said Pollack, who also sits on the board.

Officials said the $6.7 billion state of good repair backlog was only a preliminary estimate and does not yet include a full assessment of the commuter rail system. Pollack called the figure "daunting."

Gov. Charlie Baker will ask for nearly $65 million in additional subsidies for the MBTA in the state budget request he plans to submit to the Legislature on Wednesday, a spokesman for his administration said.