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Walpole taxpayers vs. the MBTA

December 2, 2013

Walpole taxpayers should take as much advantage of the MBTA’s bus and train lines to Walpole as they can, because boy are they are paying for it – and not just in the form of a higher gas tax.

Walpole taxpayers currently pay about $514,000 per year to the MBTA, in exchange for access to the MBTA’s services, including commuter rail (Franklin/Forge Park line) and the 34E bus that travels from Forest Hills to Walpole.

State law requires each of the 175 communities served by the MBTA to pay an annual assessment to the MBTA, based on a complicated formula that factors the town’s population, access to regional transportation authorities, and its distance from Boston. The assessment is automatically taken out of the town’s local aid and other state revenue sources each year.

A town pays the same MBTA assessment regardless of how frequently the commuter rail trains or buses actually stop in their community. Similarly, hypothetically, even if nobody in Walpole actually uses the bus, the town still pays the same amount and would see no financial benefit from asking the MBTA to end the bus service because of low usage.

According to Patrick Shield, who handles constituent services for State Senator Jim Timilty, the formula assigns a weighted number to each community, based on which of three MBTA service delivery areas it is located in. There are 14 municipalities in the so-called inner belt service area, 73 communities in a middle belt, and all remaining communities in an outer belt. Walpole is in the middle belt.

Each municipality’s share is equal to its weighted percentage of the total population, which is calculated by multiplying its most recent US census population, by its assigned weight.

For example, the city of Boston’s weighted share is 48 percent, while Walpole’s share is .30 percent, and Mansfield’s is .09 percent. That is even though Mansfield and Walpole have similar populations. Mansfield, though, does not have MBTA buses, though they do have access to GATRA, a regional bus system.

Communities that are served by regional transportation authorities, such as GATRA or BAT, receive a credit on their MBTA assessments in the amount that they are assessed for the RTAs. That means that communities such as Mansfield end up paying only $252 in their annual MBTA assessment – compared to Walpole’s $514,000. Mansfield’s original MBTA assessment is $151,805, but they pay $151,553 to the RTA.

Shield pointed out that “because the MBTA still requires that credited amount (that the community would pay in their MBTA assessment if they did not have an RTA), the burden of the credit amounts is redistributed to non-RTA member communities based on the original weighted formula.”

In other words, communities like Walpole end up paying the bill for communities like Mansfield that don’t pay into the MBTA yet get its services. Very fair! Isn’t the state legislature wonderful, always thinking of ways to support our cities and towns on equal footing?

By the way, as an interesting fact, under the state’s Proposition 2.5 law, a town’s MBTA assessment can not increase by more than 2.5 percent in a year unless the state Dept. of Revenue can demonstrate to the State Auditor’s Division of Local Services that the increase is due to new service.

According to the latest available ridership statistics (available at this link) compiled in Fall 2012 on behalf of the MBTA by Urban Transportation Associates, passengers getting on and off the 34E bus at its Walpole and East Walpole stops typically represent around 10 percent of its total passengers in each direction. During the week, around 200 people, or fewer, use the MBTA bus in Walpole. On weekends, the number of riders getting on and off the bus in Walpole drops dramatically, as would be expected.

The statistics indicate the 34E bus has around 16 daily stops in Walpole and East Walpole (the 34E bus also generally allows passengers to get off anywhere along the route even if it is not at a dedicated stop.) Over the course of a weekday, the statistics indicate that the 34E brings about 1667 passengers inbound to Forest Hills in Boston, of which about 181 came from Walpole.

This past summer, Walpole Selectmen appointed Town Administrator Michael Boynton to represent the town on the MBTA Advisory Board. Each elected board or official in each of the 175 cities and towns served by the MBTA may appoint someone to represent them on the Advisory Board. Each voting member has one vote plus fractions of votes equivalent to their community’s weighted proportion of the MBTA deficit.

In the past, Selectmen have appointed members of the public to represent the town on the Advisory Board, instead of the Town Administrator. Within the last ten years, the Town Administrator has generally taken on this role, however.

When he was appointed, Boynton did not publicly comment on what he hoped to achieve as Walpole’s representative.

Boynton refused to answer questions from 180 about his role on the MBTA Advisory Committee, or if he thinks the MBTA’s funding formula should be reformed.

MBTA 34E ridership summary for all Walpole stops (Fall 2012, compiled by Urban Transportation Associates):

Route Day of the Week Direction Total Ons Total Offs
34E SAT IB 112.5 6.5
34E SAT OB 7.0 156.0
34E SUN IB 50.9 0.7
34E SUN OB 1.0 60.8
34E WKDY IB 181.5 38.9
34E WKDY OB 7.1 213.6
WALPOLE ONLY (% of all 34E ons/offs)
Route Day of the Week Direction Total Ons Total Offs
34E SAT IB 9.9% 0.6%
34E SAT OB 0.5% 11.9%
34E SUN IB 6.6% 0.1%
34E SUN OB 0.1% 6.9%
34E WKDY IB 10.9% 2.3%
34E WKDY OB 0.4% 11.6%
One Comment leave one →
  1. Ryan Norton permalink
    December 8, 2013 10:08 PM

    It’s funny you should mention Mansfield: believe it or not, the train station there is the busiest in the system! Three THOUSAND more riders use Mansfield Station than they do Walpole Station! Also, aside from paratransit service, GATRA has only two services in Mansfield: a shuttle for residents to the train station (operated by a taxi service so I don’t think it’s a bus) and a bus from Wheaton College in Norton.

    So how much does it cost for the MBTA to serve Walpole? According to the MBTA website, the operating costs are $11.56/revenue mile for commuter rail and $13.35/revenue mile for bus. Thus the cost of each train is $11.56 for each mile from Walpole to Windsor Gardens, or Norwood Central (depending on whether the train stops at Windsor Gardens), and the cost of each bus is $13.35/mile driven in Walpole. The annual cost for commuter rail is $365,481 and for the 34E is $272,647. This does not include holidays. Fares and ridership as they are are way more than enough to pay for this, however there are other things that the MBTA has to pay for and that is what other fees such as assessments pay for. There is definitely a better way for the MBTA to assess Walpole, but what we should be paying is hard to tell.

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