BOSTON — Last night's train ride home was disheartening for Lawrence resident Peggi T Frias-Dominici, who learned it could cost her $624 more next year to commute to her job.
"I might consider carpooling," said Frias-Dominici, 37, who works as an administrator at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Frias-Dominici, like many area people riding the commuter rail, learned their daily fares or monthly pass fees could soon be soaring.
"They're taking away a little more money. Even if you got a dollar raise, that's where it's going to be going. I see a lot of college students in the morning taking the train to Boston. I feel bad for them because they are barely making it," she said.
Regular MBTA riders like Frias-Dominici will be paying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more a year for their commutes under final recommendations outlined yesterday to close the debt-ridden transit system's deficit.
Shortly after Transportation Secretary Richard Davey announced that the MBTA is set to raise all fares an average of 23 percent, Gov. Deval Patrick defended the price hikes and said a longer-term solution is needed to solve the state's transportation problems.
"This solution is all about patches and plugs in addition to a middle range fare increase and that's what it's going to take to try to maintain most of the service for another year," Patrick said to reporters crowded outside his office.
"The proposal we're announcing today is weighted more to fare increases and much less to service cuts," Davey said, attributing the decision to public feedback gathered by the MBTA over the last three months.
Officials said they listened and took to heart feedback from thousands of riders who attended more than 30 public hearings, including one in Haverhill, or submitted written comments to the MBTA. Davey said the overwhelming sentiment of passengers was that they would prefer to pay more than see service cut substantially.
"We can't pull any more rabbits out of our hat," said Davey, who warned the MBTA faces another deficit of about $100 million next year that could necessitate more fare hikes and service cuts. "Unless something changes we are going to be back here in a year," Davey warned.
Under the proposal, which could be ratified as early as next week by the board of the state Department of Transportation, commuter rail single-trip and monthly passes will increase an average of 29 percent, depending on the zone.
For instance, a one-way fare from Haverhill — which is in Zone 7 — to Boston would increase from $7.25 to $9.25 under the proposed plan. A trip from Andover — which is in Zone 5 — would increase from $6.25 to $8.
A frequent commuter who buys a monthly pass for unlimited travel between Haverhill and Boston for $235 will pay $56 more effective July 1 if the recommended fare increases are approved. That's an extra $672-a-year.
Frias-Dominici said she already pays $223 for her monthly pass to commute between Lawrence and Boston. With the $4-a-day parking fee, her monthly total cost for commuting exceeds $300.
The alternative is driving to Boston, where the price of parking is about $30-a-day, which would average out to $600 a month.
"Sure, it's much cheaper to take the train, but it's not a good service," Frias-Dominici said. "It's never on time. And there are days the train is so packed leaving Boston, you're standing up. There are not enough cars on the train for all of the people. So, you have to wait until the train gets to Reading to get a seat, but we're talking about five stops from North Station to Reading. If I am going to be paying all of this money, where am I going to sit?"
Frias-Dominici was one of several local residents who vented on Lawrence City Council Marc Laplante's facebook page last night when he sough reaction to the MBTA fare increases.
"From the people who commented to me within the last few hours, those people told me the increase is a burden for them," said Laplante, whose South Lawrence East District F area includes the Lawrence commuter rail station.In addition, subway fares would climb to $2 from $1.70 — a 17 percent increase — and the cost of a bus ride will climb to $1.50 from $1.25, a 25 percent spike. Monthly passes would climb to $70 from $59.
The cost of a trip for most disabled commuters who depend on the T's RIDE service would go to $4 from $2, and disabled riders living outside the MBTA's designated service zones would pay as much as $5 for a ride.
The plan would also shrink the discount seniors and students receive for bus and subway service; each group would pay 75 cents for a bus ride and $1 for a subway ride. Students would also see monthly five-day passes climb to $25 from $20, although they'd also receive an option for a full monthly pass for $28.
The proposal packs less of a punch than earlier scenarios unveiled by the MBTA, in part because the T is counting on lawmakers to send an additional $51 million its way from a trust fund that contains vehicle inspection fees. Davey said that fund is expected to contain a surplus next fiscal year.
If the Legislature agrees, those funds would close nearly a third of the MBTA's estimated $159 million budget gap. Davey said the agency is also counting on another $9 million from legislative changes to the MBTA's tort liability and an influx of Medicaid dollars to help disabled riders.
"These hikes will most hurt seniors, students, low-income residents, people with disabilities, and communities of color," said Kristina Egan, executive director of Transportation for Massachusetts, a coalition of groups that had sought alternatives to fare hikes and service cuts.
Egan said the organization was pleased that the T was proposing less drastic service reductions, but said the fare hikes were "too steep and too fast," and called on the Patrick administration and Legislature to do more to close the funding gap.
The last fare increase was Jan. 1, 2007, making Boston one of the only major U.S. systems that hasn't boosted fares over the last five years.
Transportation officials have blamed much of the system's financial woes on crushing debt, including debt from the massive Big Dig highway project in Boston. Roughly 30 percent of the agency's budget goes to repay $5.5 billion in borrowing racked up over many years — rising to more than $8 billion with interest — making it the nation's most indebted transit system.
(State House New Service contributed to this report)
What fare hikes mean to local rail commuters
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