From New York to San Francisco, the story’s the same: trains and buses are running short on cash and asking commuters to fork over more money. But here in Boston, it’s an all-too-familiar tale.

Possible fare hikes and service cuts. Million-dollar budget deficits. Shrinking revenues and mounting improvement needs. Sounds like the MBTA, but that description fits just about every major urban transit system in the country. From New York to San Francisco, the story is the same: train and bus operators are running short on cash and asking commuters to fork over more money.

But in the Boston area, it’s an all-too-familiar tale.

T riders have bristled at the prospect of paying 20 percent more, a hike the transit agency had proposed for this fall if more revenue can’t be raised. On Friday, the Legislature approved a budget that gives $160 million to the MBTA – on the condition it doesn’t raise fares.

For now, riders are in limbo as to whether that funding will be enough. Because while riders in other cities don’t like increases any better, they’ve seen much fewer over the past decade.

The MBTA has raised fares by 20 percent four times over the past 10 years, going from just 85 cents for a subway token in 1999 to $1.70 today.

During a recent editorial board meeting, Senate President Therese Murray said of T fares: “They’re pretty low if you compare them to the rest of the country.”

But whether or not the proposed increase takes effect, that’s not necessarily true. With a hike, an MBTA trip will cost about the same as a ride on a New York City or Chicago train or bus. And those transit systems are nearly double Boston’s size, with larger operating budgets and 24-hour service.

The MBTA considers itself on par with SEPTA, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority. But a commuter boarding a train in Philadelphia pays just $1.45 – and there are no fare hikes there on the horizon.

On a recent morning in Quincy Center, dozens of people waiting for buses and trains called any fare hikes during a recession “unfair.”

For many who depend on public transportation to get to work and school, they said an increase now would come at the worst possible time.

“It’s my lifeline,” said Carl Johnson, 51, of Quincy, who rides the T daily. “Fare hikes are going to hurt me because that’s more money out of my pocket that I really can’t afford.”

Danielle McDonnell, a 20-year-old student from Quincy, called another 20-percent increase “ridiculous.”

“The economy is bad enough as it is,” she said. “People can’t even get jobs, so how can they pay more?”

But while people on the South Shore and across the state are struggling, the MBTA, in a way, is doing even worse: It’s broke.

The country’s largest transit authorities share a common revenue model: public funding, in the form of taxes, and so-called “system-generated revenues,” which include fares, tolls, plus money from billboards and station ads as well as property sales.

Most systems get over 50 percent of their funding from such system-generated revenues. In Boston, it’s just 37 percent, leaving the MBTA far more reliant on assessments and taxes.

Each tax model is set up differently, but here in Massachusetts it’s largely reliant on the sales tax, 20 percent of which goes to the MBTA. In the souring economy, sales tax revenues have plummeted in recent years.

And with ridership numbers dropping since last summer – a decrease blamed on lower gas prices and higher unemployment – fare revenues aren’t going up.

But to many T riders, that’s not their problem.

“I think it’s more an administrative problem than the actual cost of running the system,” said Caron Coleman, 46, of Weymouth. “Government has been corrupted for a while, and with the state of the economy, now people are affected by it.”

Comparing subway systems   BOSTON NEW YORK CHICAGO 1999 85 cents $1.50 $1.50 2000 85 cents $1.50 $1.50 2001 $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 2002 $1.00 $1.50 $1.50 2003 $1.00 $2.00 $1.50 2004 $1.25 $2.00 $1.75 2005 $1.25 $2.00 $1.75 2006 $1.25 $2.00 $2.00 2007 $1.70 $2.00 $2.00 2008 $1.70 $2.00 $2.00 2009 $1.70 $2.25 $2.25 2009 budget $1.455 billion $7.1 billion $1.324 billion 2010 deficit $160.4 million $1.4 billion TBA fall 2009 Employees 6,164 40,000 11,795 Operates 191 bus routes, 3 subway lines, 2 trolley lines, 3 ferry routes, 14 commuter rail lines and paratransit service 26 subway lines, 243 bus routes, Staten Island Railway and paratransit service 8 rail lines, 153 bus routes Owns 646 subway cars and trolleys, 1,040 buses, 410 commuter rail cars and 80 locomotives 3,700 buses and 5,900 subway cars 2,222 buses and 1,190 rail cars  Sources: MBTA, New York City Transit Authority, Chicago Transit Authority