Funding Massachusetts Regional Transportation Authorities

1Q 2019: The fiscal calendar year for regional transit authorities (RTAs) is the same as the Massachusetts state government: from July 1st of one calendar year to June 30th of the next. Since RTA budgets depend in part on funding provided by the state, the RTA administrators and their advisory boards experience the months from January to June as a period of troubling uncertainty.
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News

  • This quarter, TFT has not received any large foundation grants. TFT did raise $2,675 this quarter, all from individuals and for-profit organizations. The largest were a $600 donation from Bay State Savings Bank, and a $500 donation from UniBank.
  • TFT has added the Tenant Council of Great Brook Valley Housing Project (GBV) as its latest organization helping TFT dispense its bus passes. There are over 900 units in GBV and several thousand residents. Since TFT is seeking to dispense free bus passes to the economically disadvantaged, GBV seemed like a very likely channel to reach its target population. GBV is 4 miles from the center of Worcester; 45 % of its units have occupants that do not have a driver's license, let alone a car.
  • A key transportation task force has recommended to Governor Baker that the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1st contain a significantly higher funding provision for the Massachusetts RTA than he had proposed. Should the legislature follow this recommendation no fixed routes will be eliminated, nor would there be fare increases this summer.
  • Steve McClure, TFT CEO, has been invited to participate in a panel at the Innovations in Transportation Conference at the DCU this April. The concern of this panel is to discuss efforts in New England to help the economically disadvantaged with their transportation needs.
  • The top management of the WRTA has been in transition since its former Administrator (CEO position) resigned last summer. The interim Administrator is Dennis Lipka. Mr. Lipka's tenure has been extended for another 18 months as the candidate to be the new permanent Administrator unexpectedly turned down the offer made to him. Worcester has a history of hanging on to good managers, e.g., Ed Augustus. The extension of interim Administer Lipka’s tenure is in this spirit and we wish him the best for his work with the WRTA!

Funding Massachusetts Regional Transportation Authorities

The fiscal calendar year for regional transit authorities (RTAs) is the same as the Massachusetts state government: from July 1st of one calendar year to June 30th of the next. Since RTA budgets depend in part on funding provided by the state, the RTA administrators and their advisory boards experience the months from January to June as a period of troubling uncertainty. During these months they don’t know whether adequate funds will be proposed by the Governor and voted into the next MA fiscal budget by the Legislature. 
 
This uncertainty plays havoc with RTA planning. Fiscal year 2017, when the Governor ;persuaded the legislature to level-fund the RTAs for the second year in a row, was particularly unsettling. With inflation, costs go up every year. Level funding the RTA at the same amount as previous years leaves the RTA with a yearly budget deficit. By July 1st, 2017, the WRTA Advisory Board had decided to balance its budget by cutting fixed routes and raising fares. This negative provision hurts riders who depend on bus transportation and particularly affects the economically disadvantaged. 
 
In January 2018 there was again no increase in state funding. The Governor once more level-funded the RTAs in the budget he sent to the legislators. Within the WRTA administration there was discussion of eliminating all fixed route service to the southwest of the city. Over the next several months there was intense lobbying of the legislature by citizens, local politicians and the Drivers’ Union. Under this pressure, extra money was added to the state budget for the WRTA, avoiding a crisis of reduced service at higher fares. As part of the final budget agreement, a special task group was formed to examine the state’s RTA system in depth and make recommendation to end this annual chaos, with a long-term approach to funding the RTAs.
 
This task group was composed of legislators, RTA Administrators, members of the MA Department of Transportation, representatives of local municipal governments, and riders. Formed in September 2018, the task group met almost weekly and produced a draft report presented in March of 2019. This report contains a series of two dozen recommendations. Its first recommendation was to increase RTA funding to $90.5 Million, way over the Governor’s proposed funding of $82 Million. This would meet the needs of the RTAs for the next fiscal year. One task member was Harriett Chandler, who achieved similar increases in funding for RTAs while she was the interim leader of the state Senate last year. The same recommendation included a provision for an “inflator” to boost the funding level each fiscal year afterward. If these recommendations are implemented, it should break the senseless cycle that has plagued the RTAs for the past several years. This will allow RTA Administrators to address important aspects of improving the quality of service of the RTA operations. Many of these possible improvements are delineated in the other 23 recommendations of the task group’s report. One proposal is for better coordination of service between adjacent RTAs. Read the full report.

Stats from the March 2015 launch of Tasks for Transit through March 2019

5
Partner Charities
$ 22164
Spent on Bus Fares
5960
Bus Passes Dispensed
32
Job Fare Kits Dispensed

More to explore

Tasks for Transit Accomplishments for 2019

4Q 2019: TFT’s plan for 2019 was to continue its steady growth by adding four Partner Charities to its network. As has been done for the previous two years, one more was added during each quarter of 2019. TFT ended 2019 with 30 Partner Charities.

The Status of the Fare Free WRTA Idea

3Q 2019: In April 2019, the Greater Worcester Research Bureau published a report analyzing the possibility of the WRTA running a “fare free” bus system. Other cities, e.g., Portland, Oregon, are doing this or have done it in the past. Clearly, a fare-free WRTA would be a great benefit for those living in poverty.

The Relationship Between Transportation and Poverty

2Q 2019: In a December 2018 article, US News & World Report noted that the US poverty rate dropped from 14.9 percent to 14.6 percent. In Massachusetts, the rate has dropped to 11.1%. However, Worcester’s rate is thought to be twice the state average, roughly 22%.

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