MBTA headed to ‘financial cliff’ once pandemic aid ends next year

Struggling to maintain ridership and facing a calamitous deficit, the MBTA can’t afford to make commuter Austin Sa any more frustrated than he already is.Sa, who rides to work each day, has by his own admission a love-hate relationship with the transit agency.”It’s really great and reliable when it’s working,” he said as he began his morning commute one day by boarding the 93 bus in Charlestown.But when it’s not?”I’ve been late to meetings or missed really important events or moments,” Sa said.He regularly tweets at the T when anything’s amiss, from broken equipment to real-time delays.”I’d really hope to see the T improve overall and not just reliability, but maintenance across the board,” he said.But it could be wishful thinking if the MBTA doesn’t clean up its money mess.5 Investigates teamed up with Northeastern University’s School of Journalism for a closer look at the T’s shaky financial footing and the reasons behind it. One thing is clear: by 2024, the T will be facing a nearly half-billion-dollar operating budget deficit, leaving the agency with few options other than layoffs, service cuts or increased fares.The looming deficit has been pushed off a bit thanks to nearly $2 billion in federal pandemic relief funds that kept the agency afloat.”We’ve had a bit of a reprieve, but I think doomsday is finally coming,” said Brian Kane, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, which provides public oversight of the T. “They call it the financial cliff, and we fall off the cliff in 2023.”The T’s operating budget keeps it running, but that’s on the verge of being hundreds of millions of dollars in the red. Fiscal year 2025, which begins in July 2024, could see a $473 million deficit. The deficit is predicted to jump to as much as $542 million the …

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