Transportation Finance

Transportation, particularly public transportation, in Massachusetts is facing a stark financial crisis. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority alone has a backlog of $3 billion of needed repairs and an increasing gap in its operating budget. The fifteen Regional Transit Authorities around the state, on the other hand, are forced to underserve their current customers because they lack a combined $125 million per year required just to meet present demand on existing bus routes. Despite the fact that over the years they have received a lion’s share of transportation dollars, the state’s roads and bridges are also in desperate need of repairs. A few years ago, the Transportation Finance Commission projected that Massachusetts will have a $15-$19 billion gap in transportation resources over the next 20 years.

While the existence and extent of this financial crisis is well documented, few solutions are currently on the table because so many stakeholders and policymakers mistakenly believe that transit finance in Massachusetts is an intractable and overwhelming problem for which no viable solution exists. The Dukakis Center and the Conservation Law Foundation are working together to break this stalemate on sustainable transit and transportation finance in Massachusetts. In April 2011 the two organizations jointly released two reports to address the financial woes of public transportation in Massachusetts.

The reports were based on conclusions gleaned from a blue-ribbon summit that the two groups co-hosted last November at Northeastern University. The Blue-Ribbon Summit on Financing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Regional Transit Authorities, supported by the Barr Foundation, brought together leading transit finance experts and an audience of 30-40 “participant observers” to focus on developing creative and innovative ways to both address the MBTA’s and RTAs’ financial problems and serve as a model for other states facing similar challenges. Based on this convening, the Dukakis Center and CLF prepared both a summary of the Blue Ribbon Summit convening and a policy report entitled A Framework for Creating a Financially Stable Public Transportation System for Massachusetts: Lessons from the Blue-Ribbon Summit on Financing the MBTA and the RTAs.

As presented in the Framework, one of the key lessons learned from the Summit is that the MBTA and RTAs will not be able to secure a sufficient and sustained level of investment in public transportation unless they can effectively communicate a bold vision for the future of transit throughout Massachusetts and build both political leadership and a broad-based coalition in support of that vision. Another key lesson is that a financially stable public transportation system requires a healthy and diverse portfolio of revenue sources. Massachusetts’ current transit finance system, by contrast, relies heavily on a small number of sometimes volatile funding sources, such as the statewide sales tax. The Framework therefore proposes a policy strategy for sustaining a financially stable public transportation system throughout Massachusetts, one which at the same time:

  • lays the groundwork for additional resources through a confidence-building strategy focused on enhancing cost-effectiveness, building credibility, improving communication and expanding coalitions in support of stable transit funding statewide, and
  • secures additional resources to meet the operating, maintenance and capital needs of the MBTA and RTAs, through a portfolio of expanded and new revenue sources that provide a balanced and equitable set of proceeds from local, state, user and non-user sources.

The Summary and Framework reports can be downloaded here:

Blue-Ribbon Summit Summary

Blue-Ribbon Summit Framework

Documents prepared in connection with the November 2010 Blue-Ribbon Summit on Financing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Regional Transit Authorities, including a background paper describing the financial status of public transportation in Massachusetts, a series of options papers discussing the pros and cons of potential solutions to the problem and the opening presentation made to Summit participants and observers, can be downloaded here:

Blue Ribbon Summit Agenda

Biographies of Blue Ribbon Experts

Background Paper

Option Papers

Opening Presentation on a Brief Overview of MBTA and RTA Finances

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