- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is hoping to gain control of Boston’s public transit system after pounding snowstorms this winter slowed the nation’s oldest subway system to a crawl, frustrating hundreds of thousands of riders.

Baker filed a bill Wednesday that would create a new control board to oversee operations and finances of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority through 2018. He would appoint three of the five members of the new board.

Baker’s actions follow one of the worst winters in Boston history. The city set an all-time snowfall record, receiving more than nine feet of snow, much of it in February.

The snowfall sparked long delays and repeated shutdown of portions of the transit system. The Obama administration has authorized disaster aid for a late January blizzard that forced a closure of the MBTA. It took more than two months after that first storm for commuter rail service to be fully restored.

“The T failed its stress test this winter when we needed it most, exposing the deep operational problems and lack of planning,” Baker said as he unveiled the bill.

The new board would consist of five members - three appointed by Baker, a Republican, and one each referred by the senate president and house speaker, who are both Democrats.

The control board would have the ability to look at whether fares need to be bumped up to help cover the T’s costs. Baker’s Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack said higher fares are just one strategy to help balance the system’s books, and aren’t the first option.

“We are not planning, even if the statutory changes are made, to overnight hike fares substantially,” she said.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Thomas McGee, a Democrat, has sounded reluctant about increasing fares, noting that fares increased by 5 percent just last year.

Many of the recommendations in the bill were included in a report by a special panel named by Baker to review the problems at the MBTA, which oversees subway, bus and commuter rail service in the metropolitan Boston region.

The panel found that fares on the MBTA - $2.10 for the subway - is lower than similar public transit systems. Bus fares and monthly passes are also less expensive, they said. The panel would also have the authority to lift the state’s anti-privatization law - an idea embraced by house leaders that has met with skepticism in the senate.

Under the bill, the system’s daily operational, budgeting and planning duties would be left up to a chief administrator, also appointed by Baker.

The bill was filed a day after the chairman and members of the board of directors of the Massachusetts transportation department, which currently oversees the MBTA, agreed to step down, clearing the way for Baker to assume control of the transit system.

A reconstituted 11-member Massachusetts transportation board is also planned and would be headed up by Pollack.

The bill would also create new capital plans, introduce reporting and audit requirements, and lift procurement restrictions for the MBTA.

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