By Bob Katzen
Gov. Baker signed into law a $16.5 billion transportation package authorizing spending on transportation and infrastructure projects across the state, after vetoing several sections including a hike in the tax paid by the riders of Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services.
The vetoed section would have raised the current 20-cent tax for every ride to 40 cents for a shared ride, $1.20 for a non-shared ride and $2.20 for a luxury ride. The 2020 Legislative session during which the package was approved by the Legislature ended on January 5 and it is too late for the Legislature to override any of the vetoes.
The package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.
Baker gave his approval to most of the funding in the package but also vetoed several transportation policy proposals that the Legislature’s version of the bill contained including a proposed commission to study congestion pricing systems that use varying roadway tolls to influence traffic; instructing the state’s 15 regional transit authorities to study means-tested fares; requiring the MBTA to launch a low-income fare program; and requiring all proceeds from the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a multi-state compact to reduce carbon emissions, to be deposited into the Commonwealth Transportation Fund. Baker said he wanted some of the funding instead to go toward “flexible emissions reductions and equity investments.”
Baker said the tax hike on Lyft and Uber would create a complicated structure that is based on pre-pandemic assumptions. “Before instituting fees that are aimed at incentivizing certain travel behaviors, we need to understand what ridership and congestion patterns are going to look like after the pandemic,” said Baker in his letter attached to the veto.
He added that he vetoed the creation of a congestion pricing commission because “the nature and prevalence of traffic has changed radically since congestion was identified as a critically important transportation and economic issue in 2019.”
“Even after the pandemic ends, it may well have changed commuting and work habits dramatically, and it is too soon to make valid projections about traffic and congestion as required by this section,” Baked continued. “Before conducting another congestion study, we need to understand the future of work, and its impact on when, where and how congestion will return.”
In vetoing the section providing for a study of means-tested MBTA fares, Baker wrote, “While we support the efforts of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board and some Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) to study means-tested fares, we believe this section requires action by the MBTA, and allows it by the RTAs, prematurely. More study is needed to understand how transit authorities can implement fare systems that depend on gathering information about riders’ incomes and to understand what the revenue loss would be and how that revenue would be replaced. No means-tested fares can be implemented until the MBTA and RTAs have a financially sustainable plan in place to replace the lost revenue.”
“The Baker administration is demonstrating yet again it is out of touch with the transportation needs and frustrations of Massachusetts residents and businesses,” said Chris Dempsey, director of the group Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA). “The governor’s vetoes of key sections of the bond bill block needed financial support for transit service statewide, delay the implementation of a transit fare program for low-income residents and leave his administration less prepared to prevent a return of our worst-in-the-nation traffic congestion. The governor’s vetoes are a particularly cruel blow to the essential workers who are relying on public transportation to keep us healthy, safe and fed in the midst of the pandemic. The House and Senate should act swiftly to pass these provisions again.”
“While the signing of a transportation bond bill is a step forward for the commonwealth, it is not meaningful enough as Massachusetts attempts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to address the challenges of climate change and inequity,” said Rick Dimino, president of A Better City. “A Better City is disappointed in a number of the governor’s vetoes. Along with several other business organizations, A Better City called for reasonable surcharges on Uber and Lyft rides, a close examination of expanded roadway pricing through an expert commission and increased attention to low-income MBTA fares. These smart transportation policies are essential to advancing an equitable and sustainable approach to funding our roads and transit system.”