The MBTA announced proposed changes to subway, bus and other MBTA fares during a Zoom town hall meeting on Thursday night, but many activists and passengers were disappointed to learn that pricing for people with low income has not been introduced and will not be introduced any time soon.
MBTA officials began by explaining three overarching goals that guided these fare changes: fairness for discount passengers, maintaining stable revenue, and fare simplification.
The first change they announced was that they would add a discounted fare option for monthly passes on commuter rail, express buses and ferries.
The MBTA would also add seven-day LinkPasses at a discounted rate, as well as discounted LinkPasses valid in Commuter Rail Zone 1A and on the Inner Harbor Ferry. Officials said this would allow discounted passengers to benefit from group purchases even if they cannot afford a monthly subscription all at once.
Those eligible for reduced fares are people over 65, people with disabilities, middle and high school students, and YouthPass participants.
The second change announced was that the MBTA would reduce the price of a one-day LinkPass from $12.75 to $11. The pass would now pay for itself if a passenger completes five rides in 24 hours. MBTA officials said this pass is often used by minority and low-income riders.
Another change announced was that the MBTA wants to make the five-day Commuter Rail FlexPass, which was introduced in a pilot program during the COVID-19 pandemic, a permanent feature. The pass is 10% off five one-day passes and bridges the gap between a one-day commuter rail pass and a monthly commuter rail pass.
Finally, MBTA officials announced that it would allow all combinations of second transfers involving buses and the subway, and a transfer between express buses to simplify travel. This includes bus to bus to metro, metro to bus to bus, and express bus to express bus.
While commentators and activists at the meeting seemed pleased with the proposed changes, many felt the changes did not go far enough.
In a statement, the Conservation Law Foundation – a New England-based environmental justice advocacy group – welcomed the changes.
But, the group said, they still believe there is a great need for income-based fare reductions in the Boston area if the MBTA is to achieve transportation equity for disadvantaged riders.
Lynsey Heffernan, deputy director of transit policy and planning for the MBTA, responded by saying that the MBTA has long been looking at discounted fares based on need, but currently the impact that the introduction of such a program would have on revenues would render the operation of the MBTA transit system unsustainable.
Other commenters have said they believe Zone 1 commuter rail stations within Boston city limits, such as Hyde Park and Readville stations, should have Zone 1A pricing.
Public comment on these rate changes will be open until March 2 and will be effective July 1 if approved by MBTA’s Board of Directors.
The MBTA also announced proposed changes to how riders pay for transit.
The new fare collection system, which would be rolled out over the next few years, would have many benefits, such as allowing passengers to enter through all doors of a metro or bus, not just the door of entrance with the ticket taker.
The new system would also allow riders to pay fares with contactless credit cards and mobile contactless payment programs such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.
A big problem that would be solved by the new system is that passengers get stuck in a station because they run out of money or they run out of money in a station without a machine to buy tickets. The new system would allow passengers to have at least one free ride when their card or ticket is issued.
Some riders may be dismayed that with the new system in place they are not able to use the same card to pay multiple riders, due to the requirement that each individual person show proof of payment.
The new system would also require passengers to pay $3 for a new Charlie Card, a currently free payment method.
Public comments on the new fare system will be open until March 31.
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