Gas tax FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

MBTA finances and increasing the gasoline tax

MBTA finances

Gasoline tax

Who supports this?

[Updated April 2009]

1. Why is the T saying that it needs to raise fares and cut service?

In 2000 the state legislature changed MBTA funding and required the MBTA to pay $3.3 billion of the state’s Big Dig debt, giving the T the largest debt (relative to operating costs) of any major public transit system. Unfortunately, the legislature did not give the T enough funding sources to pay the debt, maintain the transit system and provide reliable service.

Thus, since 2000 the T has raised fares three times, cut service (for example, eliminating Night Owl service in 2005) and deferred maintenance to have a balanced budget (which is required by law). That cycle of increasing fares and decreasing service will continue unless the legislature fixes the problem it created in 2000. The MBTA Advisory Board published an informative report in April 2009, Born Broke, that explains the history and financial implications of the problem in more detail.

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2. The T wastes money. Why can't they balance their books by being better managed and not giving employees such a generous benefit package and retirement plan?

We agree that the T can be better managed – but improving management and cutting employee benefits won't fix the T’s finances. Due to Big Dig debt and limited funding sources, the T would need to cut service and raise fares even if it were perfectly managed. In addition to advocating for fixing the agency’s finances, the T Riders Union (TRU) has a campaign to increase MBTA accountability by making sure there are transit riders on the MBTA Board of Directors. We welcome your support of that campaign too.

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3. Why should we raise the gasoline tax in Massachusetts?

The gasoline tax helps fund our transportation infrastructure. Roads and bridges are failing across the Commonwealth and require repair and rebuilding. The MBTA and regional transit authorities across Massachusetts need funding to maintain service and keep fares affordable. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has not raised the gasoline tax since 1991. If the gasoline tax had increased with inflation (especially considering that road and bridge construction costs have gone up more than inflation), it would be about 12 cents more and we would have better roads, bridges and transit.

Notably, MBTA fares have increased three times since 2000 – more than doubling – even though there has been no increase in the gasoline tax since 1991. Affordable and reliable public transit, and roads and bridges in good repair, are essential for the health of our economy – and public transit protects the environment.

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4. Who is proposing to increase the gasoline tax?

Governor Patrick proposed to increase the gasoline tax by 19 cents as part of his transportation reform plan. Of that increase, six cents would fund the MBTA. The rest would be distributed statewide to regional transit authorities and road and bridge repairs.

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5. What's happening with the gasoline tax proposal?

The state legislature has to vote to increase the gas tax. So far it has not voted on increasing the tax and legislative leaders have not said whether they would allow this proposal to come to a vote.

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6. Does the T Riders Union support the gasoline tax increase?

TRU supports the legislature taking action to make sure the T does not raise fares or cut service. The T has announced that without legislative action it will need to cut service in half and raise fares by 30 to 50 percent to balance its budget. Higher fares and less transit will hurt everyone. TRU supports either an increase in the gasoline tax with 12 cents of the increase going to the MBTA or the state taking back the $3.3 billion Big Dig debt it gave the T in 2000.

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7. Wouldn’t a gas tax increase hurt lower income people the most because they could least afford it?

A recent study showed that a gasoline tax increase would not have an undue negative impact on lower income people. Instead, most lower income people would benefit from better roads and bridges, keeping public transit service available, and keeping fares affordable. We would support tax relief for lower income people who have to drive and cannot afford the increase.

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8. I drive, bike, and/or walk but do not take public transit. Why should I pay for public transportation through an increase in the gasoline tax?

Most of the gasoline tax goes to maintain roads and bridges. Only a few pennies of the tax increase would support public transit. People who do not use public transit still benefit from the service in many ways. For example, each increase in transit fares or decrease in service causes some riders to use transit less and drive more. That means more cars on the road, more greenhouse gas and pollution emissions, more traffic jams, more wear and tear on roads, a worse federal trade deficit and more demand for gas leading to higher prices for gasoline, home heating oil and natural gas.

We all pay taxes for services we do not use because taxes help pay for the common good (for example, some people do not have children but some of their tax money goes to schools). Good and affordable public transit is essential for our local economy and environment.

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9. I don't live near Boston. Why should I support a gasoline tax increase that affects the whole state?

Everyone will benefit with better road and bridges and better public transit throughout the state. The same way some of the gasoline tax collected in your part of the state will pay for roads and bridges and public transit in Boston, some of the gasoline tax collected in Boston will pay for roads and bridges and public transit near where you live. Because such large percentage of the overall gasoline tax revenue is collected in greater Boston, all parts of the state will benefit from an increase in the gasoline tax.

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10. I use public transit. Why should I support a gasoline tax increase?

Public transit systems across the state are in financial trouble due to rising costs. Some have already cut service and increased fares in the past few years. Wherever in the state you use public transit, the increase could help fund your public transit system to maintain service and keep fares affordable. It is very important that the legislature dedicates an adequate part of the increase for public transit.

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11. Who else supports an increase in the gasoline tax?

A wide cross section of groups and individuals supports an increase in the gasoline tax, for example, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council; Our Transportation Future and the Transportation Finance Commission.

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12. Where can I find more information about the gasoline tax? What can I do to support the gasoline tax increase?

Contact the T Riders Union.

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