Gov. Maura Healey’s recently tapped MBTA directors peppered agency officials with questions Thursday about budget woes and safety initiatives as they strive to restore trust in the beleaguered transit agency.
Board member Tom McGee, a former senator and former mayor of Lynn, requested data spanning the last two decades on the agency’s sales tax trends, one-time funding needs and other challenges to offer a “historic perspective” into the budget shortfalls plaguing the agency, whose safety failures have been chronicled by federal investigators.
McGee forecasted a “pretty sobering several years ahead.” “I know we all want to make sure we’re taking it on in the right way,” McGee said during a virtual MBTA Board of Directors Audit and Finance Subcommittee meeting Thursday morning.
Confronting a $366 million budget gap in fiscal 2024, the MBTA plans to pull $261 million from its deficiency fund reserve, which is $9 million less than anticipated last November, said CFO Mary Ann O’Hara.
The strategy is needed to “not further deteriorate our financial outlook,” O’Hara said, adding other funding sources — such as one-time state appropriations tied to the Federal Transit Administration’s safety directives — will plug the rest of the shortfall.
The MBTA’s fare revenue recovery ratio is pegged at 19 percent for fiscal 2024, meaning operating expenses are outpacing revenue growth due to decreasing ridership, O’Hara said. That compares to 43 percent in fiscal 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now while the recovery ratio may seem like a fraction of an amount, it is still hundreds of millions of dollars — it’s well over $400 million to support the billions of dollars that we spend to run the MBTA system-wide,” O’Hara said.
Thomas Glynn, the new MBTA board chair, questioned whether the agency is adequately funding elevators and escalators. He also asked how the agency’s debt burden may still be impacted by the Big Dig; a staffer said that as much as $1 billion is still outstanding.
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