Introduction

This post floats a proposal for across-the-board transit fare cuts funded by tax increases. My considered bottom line about the proposal appears further below. Click here to jump to the bottom line.

Proposal

Is now the time to sharply cut transit fares in Massachusetts? T fares have risen much faster than inflation, more than doubling since 2003.

Lower fares would result in more riders. More riders means less cars on the road which is good for everyone. Transit already carries a big share of the traffic on the most common routes into the core of the Boston area — approximately 40% region-wide. Even a small shift to transit could make a big difference in congestion.

I’m not suggesting that the MBTA and other transit authorities should run with less money. We are in the middle of a sustained effort to provide better quality transit service and that costs money.

Statewide, transit authorities raise approximately $800 million per year from their riders through fares. To cut fares, the legislature would need to identify annually recurring funds and permanently pledge them to the MBTA and other regional transit authorities. The pledge would be combined with a legal mandate that the funds be used to replace fare revenue. The transit authorities could then make decisions as to how specifically to allocate the reductions. The reductions would be permanent in the sense that future increases would be limited by existing law.

For example, a 9 cent per gallon gas tax increase and a one dollar per ride charge to Uber/Lyft users would raise a little less than $400 million. This should be enough to cut transit fares in half statewide. Likely, it would be a bit more than enough given that ridership would increase and generate additional revenue.

Drivers in western Massachusetts generally drive further each day than Boston drivers and do not want to subsidize the Boston region with gas tax payments. The new collections should be returned to the regions that they are collected from to assure geographic equity. If, within a region, the collections exceed the amount necessary to eliminate transit fares, the excess should be returned to cities and towns in the region for road improvement.

How ridership changes in response to fare changes is a subject of extensive empirical research, locally, nationally and internationally. For some riders on some routes, time savings are a more important consideration than fares. That tends to be most true for rail and subway routes that can move much faster than road traffic. Except when they benefit from dedicated lanes, buses tend to move more slowly than traffic because they stop frequently. Bus ridership is more sensitive to price changes than rail ridership.

Analysis of past fare changes in the Boston region shows roughly a .15 “elasticity of demand” ratio. In other words, a 10% fare increase would yield a 1.5% ridership loss. A 50% fare decrease would be outside of the historical range of experience, but if the .15 ratio held, we could expect an overall ridership increase of something like 7.5%. On the other hand, a fare decision of that magnitude would send a strong message of support for transit ridership and might lead to a larger increase in usage.

A careful analysis would need to be done by each transit authority about how to allocate the fare decrease to achieve manageable ridership increases. The authorities would have to think carefully about fare equity and how the changes affect lower income riders. An across-the-board even decrease would be easy to explain and would probably pass equity muster, but there are other possibilities.

For example, the MBTA could completely eliminate fares for local buses while making a more modest adjustment for the subway. This would benefit some of the lowest income transit users. It would have the additional benefit for both riders and drivers that buses would not be pausing in traffic while riders pay their fares. It might also greatly simplify the implementation of any new fare technology, although it would mean foregoing the ridership data provided by collections.

There is also a good case for targeting commuter rail fares. Commuter rail fares are distance based, so that commuting from endpoints like Worcester and Lowell can cost several hundred dollars per month. On the Worcester line in particular, we need to drive ridership up in advance of the disruptions likely to be caused on the MassPike by the Allston interchange construction.

As much as we struggle to provide more affordable housing, people of modest income find themselves increasingly priced out of the urban core. We need to make it economically feasible for them to commute to the high employment core of the region or they will be deprived not only of their preferred housing but of employment.

Reader Reaction Poll Results

We should raise taxes to cut transit fares as outlined above.

Agree (N=236)59.3%
Disagree (N=80)20.6%
Not sure or don’t like the question as framed (N=82)20.1%
Readers responding within 48 hours (N=398)100.0%

A gas tax increase of 9 cents combined with an Uber/Lyft fee increase of $1 would suffice to cut all bus, subway and commuter rail fares in half all across the state.

Insights from Comments

Thanks to the almost 400 people who chose to submit their quick reaction to the proposal for a broad-based fare cut funded by tax increases and especially to the over 100 who chose to comment in more detail below. I have read all of the comments through October 13.

The overall reaction to the proposal among my readers was supportive, but the critical input was also helpful and I’d like to summarize my own thinking at this point. There are several reasons to like the proposal of a broad fare cut, but they all need to be examined and qualified. A fare cut targeted to low-income riders may make more sense.

First, a fare cut seems to speak to equity. We tend to think of transit users as having more modest incomes, and certainly, the most wealthy usually have more comfortable options. However, areas well-served by transit tend to become more desirable and expensive. Only 28.8% of all MBTA users actually qualify as low-income. See Table 7. from the CTPS analysis of the most recent MBTA fare increase analysis. (Low income is defined as below 60% of the median household income.) Lowering fares for all transit users is not a well-targeted method for supporting low-income households.

Moreover, lowering fares by raising the gas tax or the Uber/Lyft fee would burden many low-income households, many of whom have no access to transit. As more and more people of limited income are priced out of the low-household-mileage urban core into high-household-mileage suburbs, the gas tax falls more and more regressively on households. And it polls badly (opposed by 68%, even for funding better transit).

Second, a fare cut promises to reduce congestion — the more people that take public transit, the fewer cars on the road. This argument makes sense on its face, but I do not believe that it is compelling. Congestion is most frustrating at rush hour. People driving at rush hour are mostly employed, so mostly not at the lowest end of the income spectrum. They are sufficiently affluent that that they can afford to drive into the city and incur parking costs, so they are less likely to change their commuting behavior based on a fare cut: They are likely to be making decisions more based on time and comfort rather than money.

The modest shift of people out of vehicles onto transit as a result of fare cuts is unlikely to make a noticeable impact on congestion. To confirm this, consider one of the more favorable places for a high impact — the MassPike corridor, where commuter rail handles about 1/3 of the corridor’s rush hour volume. A crude computation suggests that a 50% fare cut would save less than a minute for drivers. More generally, on most other routes in the region, time savings would be fully diluted amidst traffic flows that do not align with transit.

Explanation of time saving estimate:

The CTPS fare analysis at Table 1 estimates a .1 demand elasticity for commuter rail pass holders and a .2 elasticity for cash purchasers. At rush hour, the elasticity of demand is likely to be towards the lower end, so using a .15 elasticity is an optimistic assumption at rush hour. If a 50% Worcester line fare cut led to a 7.5% rush hour ridership increase (.15 elasticity) and 80% of the new ridership was shifted from vehicles on the Pike, then rush hour vehicle volume on the road would go down by about 2 percentage points from 67% to 65% of the total corridor peak volume. If a 50% traffic reduction from peak is necessary to get down to free flow speeds and save 15 minutes in travel time (as is very roughly suggested by inspection of data in the congestion report at pages 19 and 26), then travel times would likely fall by 2%/(.5*67%) * 15, in other words less than 1 minute.

A third reason to like an across-the-board fare cut is that increasing transit ridership might reduce greenhouse gases. Again, this is compelling at first glance, but we have to keep in mind that most trips are well not served by transit. Statewide, the vast majority of the miles traveled in the state are traveled in passenger vehicles. Moving people on to transit is a very limited emissions reductions strategy — we have to electrify our passenger vehicle fleet. Further, there are many more cost-effective ways to reduce emissions than transit fare cuts, for example, subsidizing electric vehicles.

Explanation of carbon cost-effectiveness statement:

The following assumptions are all as favorable as possible to the carbon cost-effectiveness of fare cuts: (a) .2 elasticity of demand, evenly distributed across modes, so that a 50% fare cut results in a 10% increase in both ridership and passenger-miles traveled; (b) all of the passenger-miles traveled increase is converted from single-occupancy-vehicle use; (c)the transit power sources are 100% renewable and/or no service increase is required; (d) the vehicles replaced get only 15 miles to the gallon.

On these favorable assumptions, the annual cost of saving one passenger-mile of driving through T fare cuts is $1.60, so the annual cost of saving a gallon of gasoline is $24.00 (at 15 miles per gallon) per year or $2.72 per kg of CO2 (at 8.887 kg CO2/gallon).

By contrast, a $10,000 electric vehicle incentive that caused a driver to shift to a fully green electric vehicle that saved 500 gallons of gasoline per year over ten years would be a $2/gallon-saved expenditure for the public, or $0.22 per kg of CO2. Similarly, bringing insulation up to code in an older home is a one-time cost in the ballpark of $9 per therm of natural gas saved annually or $1.81 per kg of CO2 emission (at 5.3 kg CO2/therm) annually for the life of the house, roughly $0.09 per kg of CO2, assuming only a 20 year life. For another comparison, the Obama whitehouse economic advisors estimated the social cost of carbon in 2020 at $42/ metric ton of CO2, or $0.04 per kg of CO2.

Fourth, it seems likely that the modest ridership increases likely from a fare cut could be accommodated without additional service spending. A tighter squeeze is always possible, but at rush hour, most transit routes are heavily crowded already. While crowding is self-limiting, more crowding would hardly be desirable from the perspective of loyal riders.

Interim Conclusion

Many commenters responded with critiques of the MBTA’s service and management. While the service still needs improvement, I believe the current management is strong and has set the system on a course of long-term improvement that we will all begin to feel within a few more years. When we see strong increases in capacity on the Red and Orange Lines and the commuter rail, as we have good cause to expect in within two or three years, that may be a more appropriate time for broad-based fare cuts to attract ridership.

Better-targeted cuts still merit short-run consideration:

  • Following the release of an MIT study showing that fares limit limit mobility of low-income households, MBTA management committed to study a discount fare for low-income riders (see livestream of June 10, 2019 meeting at 55:50, July 22, 2019 meeting at 1:12:30 and full presentation at meeting of August 12, 2019 at 1:22:00). Completion of the MBTA’s study is expected later this year. This study may show the way to a more efficient and equitable fare cut that the legislature might want to support financially.
  • Fare discounts for low income commuter rail riders has a special appeal, as they would support transit oriented development in gateway cities. Table 7 of the recent fare analysis shows that 93.2% are not low income, so across the board commuter rail fare cuts are not appealing. Yet, it makes sense to consider connecting affordable housing in gateway cities to Boston jobs through discount fares for lower-income workers.
  • An alternative targeted approach to fare reduction which some are urging informally would be elimination of fares on buses. Bus fare elimination might simplify implementation of the new fare collection system and tend to benefit lower-income riders. It would also be very inexpensive, since (a) many bus trips also result in subway trips (no fare loss on those trips given existing transfer policy) and (b) fare recovery is generally low already on bus-only trips. Additionally, eliminating bus fares might accelerate buses by speeding boarding. A concern about bus fare elimination was raised by a commenter: we have to consider how we would manage the possibility that if the buses were free the buses would start to be heavily occupied by people who are not actually trying to get someplace. That might degrade service for riders who are using the service as intended. Additionally, since subways would not be discounted many lower-income riders might not actually benefit.

Resources

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

Join the Conversation

183 Comments

  1. I sympathize with the idea to reduce overhead by eliminating fares on buses or other aspects of transit, but one common reaction to doing so is a huge uptick in “problem riders” – see https://www.nctr.usf.edu/pdf/473-132.pdf. I believe that the burden for riding transit – monetary, convenience-wise, and comfort-wise – should be made as small as possible, and reducing fares (especially on commuter rail lines) is an excellent idea for equity as well as congestion reasons, but unfortunately eliminating fares altogether is probably not good. I also think on most transit systems, spending money on more frequent, reliable service would do more good than slashing fares. But if we can have both, we should have both!

    1. Thanks for sharing this piece — it makes some compelling arguments against fare free service. The issue of problem riders who are not there to travel is certainly valid.

      The points about riders’ priorities are also well taken — safety, reliability, convenience. I’m considering the investment in fare cuts in the context of what appears to be a maximal investment in reliability improvement — they can’t spend more capital funds.

    2. The issue is about the reliability of the MBTA. Also fares aren’t collected at least on the Green D line which I use. With the Billions being spent to upgrade the T will be a tax burden enough. You are pushing the cart before the horse. And no I am not old enough to use the phrase.

    3. From that pdf: “truant school children, vagrants, and other “dubious categories” of…”

      Okay, if we’re going to raise this point perhaps it helps to not mince words to aid in clarity of thought. If there’s no fare on the buses you’re afraid you’re always going to smell homeless people when you ride them, because they would use it as shelter. That’s it right? Why otherwise would anyone take a bus to no where in particular.
      First, the smell you object to is simply the smell of not having washed clothes for a certain, surprisingly short, number of days. You can try this experiment yourself. It doesn’t take long to reproduce the smell if you don’t change and wash your clothes over 3 or 4 days. So if you want not to smell it then provide facilities for those who can’t afford a place and have no way to take a shower. Public showers of some kind, more funding to shelters, etc.
      Related to this perhaps is the lack of public washrooms around the city. Even for those of us with homes, you have to know the city pretty well if you wander about and don’t have an iron bladder. I once visited Milan for a job. They had public washrooms near the transit stops with a small fee you pay for the salary of the person employed there to keep them clean and secure. Failing that more of the Portland Loo’s or whatever the thing in Harvard Square is called would be helpful (but someone has to service them from time to time, “things” happen.)
      But I guess we aren’t wealthy enough in Massachusetts to tackle homelessness and instead should try to keep such people out of site and off our buses.

  2. Uber and Lyft are both causing traffic congestion. The one dollar per ride tax to subsidize the MBTA sounds like a great idea

    1. As a fan and user of Lyft/Uber, I reluctantly agree. I’d always imagined ride sharing reduced congestion, but studies (Schaller and others) suggest the contrary.

      But raising taxes on gasoline, which is unreasonably cheap in this country given its societal cost, should have a broader effect. Those taxes could also be earmarked for pollution mitigation, infrastructure repair, and alternative energy development.

    1. No fare decrease.
      Commuters don’t use the T (commuter rail & subway) because of poor service & delays.
      Taking $$ from the T when $$ is needed to improve service is not helpful.

        1. We should give them more money to improve or replace trains not to cut fares. That should be our first concern. Improve service and people will not complain about the fare.

  3. I agree that MBTA fares need to be lowered, service needs to be improved (faster, higher frequency, higher reliability), drivers need to carry a larger financial burden, and car traffic needs to be discouraged (in Boston, but also wherever else possible). However, many people use Uber/Lyft because of the problems with the MBTA, and charging those Lyft/User users higher fares before improvements are made to the MBTA seems unfair. At the same time, I recognize that Uber/Lyft seriously contribute to Boston’s traffic and emissions, and people need to be encouraged to use other modes (e.g. MBTA) because they are made to be faster, cheaper, more convenient than they currently are. Another revenue source that should be explored is dynamic pricing for tolls and parking.

    1. Disagree about drivers carrying a larger burden. I don’t think the roads are congested because there are more drivers. I think it is because different schedules. You are now just as likely to find a traffic jam at 2pm as you are at 5pm. If folks are going to WFH, then they should WFH and not be running errands. Additionally, parking costs in Boston are already outrageous, and that would only burden drivers – not Uber/Lyft, not Buses, not Trains. I believe Uber/Lyft contribute to the jams significantly not because they exist but because they never know where they are going. If I am behind an Uber/Lyft, then I try to get in front of it. And tolls just shift the places people drive. Mass Pike traffic would move more and more to Storrow Drive for example. A gas tax is really the best solution because all traditional vehicles included the motorized bikes need gas.

  4. Our fares keep going up while the quality of service goes down. At least if I didn’t have to pay for it (or had to pay much less), it wouldn’t bother me so much when the green line has a disabled train. I’m wary of getting more people on the T… the B green line and the 66 bus are already overcrowded when I’m commuting, so the T would have to keep up with demand. Maybe the new green line cars will help with this and it won’t be so much of an issue? I never take the commuter rail during rush hour(s) so I can’t speak to that.

    Thanks for looking into this thoroughly and being open to new ideas!

    1. We need to consider senior citizens, and the ill
      using the T, it often isn’t healthy for them to take the T. Many people go to our local hospitals, colleges, schools, businesses and they should be able to use the T without it breaking down. Why not cut the benefits of the MBTA workers, and cut the money some,
      their benefits are way out of control. No one ever considers this do they!!
      People who don’t use the T shouldn’t have to pay for it. The area is way too crowded now, buidling more apartments all over the place should be stopped it is bringing way too many people and people need to live elsewhere. Lowering the price of the MBTA prices and then socking it to the home owners and others is wrong on all levels.Why don’t we publish the salaries and benefits of the MBTA workers, and all the people in government in Massachusetts. How much does Charlie Baker make in a year, or Marty Walsh? The taxes are hurting the middle class.

  5. As the late Bruce Bolling would say it’s like robbing Peter to feed Paul. A fee, a tax, it’s all the same thing with a different name.

    My goal long term to get rid of the outrageous MBTA pension system the likes of Mike Mulhern have milked for decades and make the MBTA completely free resulting in more ridership, less cars on the road thus saving on road repairs and having less traffic.

  6. I support this 100%. I hear too many people saying “I would take the T, but driving is cheaper.” This shouldn’t be the case. We are choking on traffic congestion, yet there are people who are driving who would prefer not to be?! That’s nuts!

    1. The thing is, driving will still be pretty cheap even if the T is free. Driving needs to be more expensive to really have a substantial impact on behavior.

    2. Driving is not cheaper. Car insurance, maintenance, paying for parking, gas, car payments, excise tax, etc. On a monthly basis, a driver can easily pay $600 if total yearly costs are over 7k.

      1. If you already “own” a car, car payments, excise taxes, and insurance are mostly fixed costs that don’t increase with each new trip. The in-your-face incremental costs are parking, then gasoline, and maybe maintenance, and if that’s lower than the T, you might well choose to drive.

        One proposal I’ve seen for changing the in-your-face cost of driving is to link legal-minimum insurance directly or nearly directly to miles driven; back before e-cars were so common, as a “gas tax” (it would be large), more recently now that GPS and cell data service are relatively cheap and ubiquitous, as a direct per-mile cost. (There’s privacy issues, hoo-boy.)

    3. Driving isn’t cheaper than the T unless you’re using the commuter rail – that cost is insane….Eg, $15 each way from Haverhill and horrible schedule, too.

  7. We need to increase ridership, drink decrease traffic on the roads. A modest tax increase is a small price to pay but less traffic congestion and pollution.

  8. Sen B. I think we need some new revenue for the MBTA, but I was a bit surprised at my irritation with taxing shared rides services . The T cannot seem to get me anywhere on time with any reasonable level of reliability, so the more expensive alternative I feel obliged to take will be made more expensive? It really feels that we keep giving the T more money through various vehicles, including higher fares, and we do not see any appreciable improvement. Why would I support more of the same? The T and state government needs to have some sustained improvement without such a punitive funding approach. I am not sure what that is, and it may have to be a general tax to address the western MA concerns, or some business funding since they seem to want their workforce to arrive on time. Any question about more funding for the T without plausible accountability is hard to answer positively.

  9. I agree with the other commentators. I want a clean, safe and reliable service that is well-maintained. I was willing to do that for my car when I drove and I am certainly willing to pay taxes for good service for all.

    1. Brilliant. People complain constantly about traffic and how it makes them late. The new bus only lanes have made the trips to the subways faster than the cars and it’s clearly the smart way to handle both the adverse impact of all the vehicles to climate change while encouraging more folks to use public transportation. Some of us wonder why Trump continues to subsidize fossil fuels by the 10s of billions of tax dollars a year and lift restrictions on corporate pollution while we have people like you that pay attention to the science and are trying to preserve the planet instead of rush the armageddon! Raise the cost of gasoline already!
      THANK YOU WILL!

  10. Although I drive to work, I’d be happy to pay more in gas taxes to support lower T fares — in fact, I’d suggest raising the gas tax high enough to improve the T service as well. The overall benefits to the commonwealth would be well worth it.

  11. I wonder is there is data on who uses uber and Lyft, would adding to their fees hurt low income people more than higher income people, the opposite, or no difference.

  12. Maybe a small tax increase in the most wealthy counties would be most equitable. Many of these same wealthy locales are probably; most able to afford a nominal increase and will benefit from a lowering of “cut-thru” vehicles at rush hour.
    thanks Will

  13. I agree.
    One additional thought. A senior discount is granted irrespective of financial need. Would it be difficult to change this? Would there be worthwhile savings for the T?

    1. Getting into income verification creates a whole new set of issues . . . unless one wants to limit use to people who are participating in some other means-tested program. I think part of the theory of the senior pass program is that it is that seniors are likely to be riding off-peak and that it might create new demand.

      1. Perhaps there needn’t be verification. Just income questions in the application. Some people may lie, but many will be truthful.

  14. I agree that the T fares should be lower to incentive people to use the T who can. The tax strategy can be done through a focused strategy directed at cars – gas tax; more tolls. While I hate to suggest it, the I93 corridor could also be a source of funds through some tolling there to encourage people to get out of their cars.

  15. Will. I like the idea of free bus rides. It would be easy to track ridership by a motion sensitive device like turnstiles use.
    You are demonstrating the kind of thinking we need more of.

    Please push for this idea to be developed into a formal proposal.

  16. This is a very well thought out examination of the issue, Sen. Brownsberger. I 100% support this approach.

  17. I am not sure I understand all the angles completely. I do feel, however, that we need to create incentives for commuter rail folks. The one off, occasional T rider should help subsidize the folks riding 5 days/week from longer distances.

  18. If you have a scarce resource, making it free will worsen the problem. Public transit capacity on urban core routes, particularly during rush hour, is a very scarce resource. Often you do not have the physical capacity to increase trips, and more riders simply further worsens the experience for the riders. You should not cut fares on these routes. The MBTA already offers passes and other mechanisms to ensure access for people with limited income.
    Cutting fares during off-peak times, or on under-utilized routes, would make a great deal of sense. You have said in the past that the MBTA doesn’t have the capability on its current smart card system to make changes like this, or even to see how riders are using their system. That problem should be solved, and quickly. Why is the T willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in building out brick and mortar infrastructure without also ensuring parallel investments into data management to better utilize and optimize their existing assets?
    Gas taxes should be increased anyway, simply because they are too low to even cover the current spending on roads. Whether you apply the proceeds to public transit or to reimbursing local governments for their road expenses is a separate issue.
    A fee on lyft and uber is an interesting idea, as there is growing evidence that the services are cutting into public transit demand (though in fairness often providing a better quality service) and driving up urban congestion. But aside from politics, why would you institute the fee on ride sharing services but not on conventional taxis? And if you care about congestion, how about modifying taxi operating rights so they can legally pick up passengers during their backhauls rather than being frozen out of nearby cities based on their local medallion?

    1. Agree would modifying medallion laws. Taxi drivers do have a knowledge base that ride shares don’t. They provide value, pay them for that instead of letting ride share companies extract rents. Another idea more shuttle services from industrial parks to popular drop-off spots such as Watertown Sq, Alewife, Exit 17, Cushing Sq in Belmont, Moody St in Waltham, etc. Companies often get tax benefits for coming here. Why not let them provide such services? Hotels in tourist spots function prefect well with shuttle services.

  19. This is an interesting idea. I am presently not for or against it. However raising taxes will not be welcome as you know. It may put burden on people with fixed income or who are retired and don’t us the transit system very or even drive much. People who will not directly benefit will oppose it.

    I believe some cities subsidizes transit with higher car tolls. This should be looked into if it hasn’t already.

    Adding increasing service where needed such as Bosting Landing while keeping the cost down is difficult. Making the transit more cost effective should be a priority. However I would not like money wasted on studies with little results.

    I am open to hear additional information about this.

  20. I do not own a car, so the Uber tax would impact me. I 100% agree with it. At certain non-peak times (e.g., Sundays), the cost of Uber or Lyft rivals the cost of the T for certain intracity trips, I have observed, but I choose Uber or Lyft because they are way more convenient than the T. In those times, the extra $1 fee coupled by (hopefully) improvements making the T less inconvenient would then tip the scales toward me taking the T instead of the rideshare, thus reducing traffic on the road and encouraging use of public transportation. I like the idea, especially if the T actually improves according to its existing plans we always hear about (I acknowledge you are just trying to cost-shift with this idea, and there is no new funding intended here to improve the T).

  21. How ’bout making parking FREE at all T lots to get more people onto the trains? Taxes always seems to be the answer to all Democrats, which is what most of our politicians in this state are. And you might also consider the retirement of T workers. I’m told they get a great retirement at young ages and then go on to other state jobs, double dipping the state all the way to the bank.

    1. I think this idea has merit. Is there enough parking capacity? How about a trial at one station – Riverside? Or even better, at one of the Commuter Rail stations that has excess capacity to test the effect and to attract the further out commuters that would use highways instead and use the most expensive commuting option and would thus save the most money.

        1. The price of the Watertown lot went down to $2.50/day and, though it took a while for people to catch on, now it often fills up before 10am. Free parking would just make the situation much worse.

    2. More parking lots would be better so that cost would be lower. Not every abandoned space has to be turned into a condo. How about some lots? There is a significant amount of run down space in Waltham that sits idle just collecting rats and sheltering drug activity. Friends in those neighborhoods want some smart development.

  22. I am not sure that the premise of lowering fares would increase T ridership. The main reason I don’t take the T or bus is because it is unreliable, not available in certain areas and takes too long. My car takes me in and out of Boston in under 20 minutes, on average. I do agree with using a gas tax because it gives people control over how much gas they want to consume. If this were an income tax, then I would feel more hesitant since the city of Boston could cover it with its many 1% inhabitants. And a property tax is no-go because those same inhabitants are coming out here and artificially raising the property values. There’d be more supply if other towns (the ones surrounding Watertown) didn’t have such segregationist zoning laws. A gas tax is best as it taxes uniformly, and combats environmental hazards.

    1. I agree with all of this. I usually only take the bus (with a recent dedicated lane that is amazing & awesome!) but I wouldn’t need it to be free; 1/2 price, I think, would make a big difference, and would help lots of people. I feel like the commuter rail would be a good place to target fare reductions, for the exact reasons Will specifies. I do wonder who would be hurt most by the big addition to ride-share rides, but if transit was cheaper/faster/more reliable, I think people would be happy to use it.

    2. I am in agreement with the spirit of this. Increased reliability and frequency will increase ridership. I am HAPPY to pay for a reliable service and would use it much more if I knew I could make my meeting in time taking the T. I do like making driving more expensive – Uber tax is not bad, but other factors would help – PARKING should be expensive and GASOLINE should be expensive.

      1. Agree, except with the parking part. If you have to go into the city for an interview or doctor’s appointment then you leave the city having paid $50.00 for for a few hours. Again, not going to take the T/Bus for such things.

  23. If you are using tax money to support the infrastructure, fine. If you are taxing everyone to support another groups ride, then no. I’m already reading some of the responses where the writer wants the tax hike to be targeted towards specific communities. If anything, add a ‘temporary’ fare increase and ‘temporary’ tax to fix the crumbling infrastructure, then REMOVE both. The infrastructure improvements helps the property values and the riders have a better system, and those who use the system are also involved in the fix.

    1. If, within a region, the collections exceed the amount necessary to eliminate transit fares, the excess should be returned to cities and towns in the region for road improvement.
      Change that word should to shall or will
      I would be in favor. Lawyers and politicians have a funny way with words.

  24. I use the T quite a lot, but have been discouraged by the increasingly poor service lately and have started driving more. I think that raising taxes could be a solution IF the T makes improvements BEFORE they go into effect. They haven’t won my trust that they are willing or capable of giving us really good service.

  25. AGREE! I completely support encouraging transit use and making it less expensive and higher taxes to pay for it. We also need more transit capacity to support increased usage. Revenue would hopefully be raised in a progressive and environmentally sensitive way (VMT tax, inflation indexed gas tax, carbon tax…)

  26. I support and appreciate your continued dedication to trying to improve our transit system and in doing so, address global warming.
    The current floods of traffic are significant with one person in every car. Admittedly carpooling is hard to promote since everyone has an agenda of errands to run, obligations to meet, and don’t want to give up independence. The recent article on encouraging more working from home was timely.

    Fares certainly impact riders in the city. We have an historically important system that would be astronomically expensive to revamp to address the real routes that many people need. By the time you have taken three buses and perhaps a subway as well, you have spent an hour and a half trying to get across town or into town. No free fares can fix that problem. Certainly buses are more flexible for rerouting as was done on a couple of the Belmont route but so much of the system is rail bound and immoveable.

    Rail fares are higher for more efficient travel but the limits to parking negatively impact ridership. For example the Littleton lot is so small and fills early that many potential riders from the area are turned away. This is the only efficient method for getting to Boston from that area without driving.
    A quick look at Route 2 from Acton to Rte 95 N or S shows very slow movement in the traffic packed lanes going into town in the AM and out in the PM with traffic already jamming the routes by 3 PM, and the reverse from early hours to often as late as 10 AM. The same is true for 95 in either direction. I don’t know how people bear this twice a day, every day!
    Our rush hour has expanded from 6 AM to 8 PM if one looks at the main streets through Belmont.

    Will reduced fares help these situations? Unlikely. Since current transit solutions don’t resolve these issues. More satellite parking with shuttles? Expanding the Alewife garage to the two additional levels that were boasted about at its opening? Simple maintenance is taking those funds.

    Raising the gasoline tax is probably the least painful but considering the size of most of the cars on our highways, gas economy is the least of the worries of the drivers of these huge SUVs and trucks of all sizes. Fees for Uber and Lyft? Why not? I don’t use either and don’t plan to but I have read that these add to traffic without revenue to address the impact.

    Restructure the traffic management: the new bus lane on Belmont Street once it melds past Aberdeen causes backups in auto traffic until lane suddenly allows a right turn and then immediately after the light leads into chaos with left turning traffic causing backups, a mysteriously appearing third lane that is unclear what direction it is to carry and the necessary slipping past on the right lane that then requires maneuvering into the proper lane for Mem Drive, Storrow Drive/Soldier’s Field Rd, or the road on the right past BB&N. An additional frustration is the 3 second green light on lower Aberdeen for left turns causing backups, illegal left turns and much frustration. If lucky, perhaps three cars get through; more often only 2.

    Now that everyone is checking their phone at every stop there is a ridiculous delay in the response of the drivers when a light turns green leading to even more backups as each car slowly begins to continue on.

    You might have guessed that recently I have experienced most of these issues! Forgive the venting! We have it easy compared to many who need to cross Boston to get to work.

    1. Gas Tax absolutely! WFH policy has a major flaw in that people do not stay home. Since people have cellphones they are conducting meetings from the cleaners, the lunch place, the dentist office, the gym, the shopping center, the coffee shop, the place they are not supposed to be at, etc. The driving while on the phone is not as problematic as the person running errands all over the place while WFH. As an aside, I am leery of the bill purposal to ban texting while driving as it has some tenants that unnecessarily burden certain populations. Cops need to be pursing other matters instead of sitting in their cars and waiting for someone to commit an infraction.

  27. I think that without increasing capacity driving more ridership won’t actually work. We will need to cough up enough revenue so that the subway/buses/commuter rail can actually carry those extra passengers. That means spending money on updates and also on enforcing things like bus lanes.

  28. I am for a free T. Consider all the salary and benefits positions you could cut. Plus fare taking machines, etc.
    It’s a great stimulus for those that rely on the T to get to work. Also great for retail and businesses. I know it will probably never happen, but that’s my 2 cents.

  29. The proposal as stated seems straightforward, but I am not sure it is politically viable. I have the impression — and it is no more than an impression — that the MBTA union(s) are politically strong enough to suck up any and all increases in revenues. After all, they seem to have been strong enough to prevent current revenues from being spent on maintenance. At least so far. Am I wrong?

    1. The unions engage in collective bargaining with management. I don’t think we’d change the balance of that bargaining process either way with this proposal.

      But we are definitely spending the money we need to on maintenance. It’s just going to take some more years of doing so to catch up.

  30. I rarely use the T and do not think raising taxes and making Uber or Lyft pay “a tax” to bring down the fare is fair.

  31. I agree with much of your thinking, Will. Probably making the buses free would be the most effective and most equitable. And they do need more dedicated lanes.

  32. Are you serious? What about using money from the mass port and mass pike to help with the T…
    Drivers continue to be taken advantage of.

  33. In general I agree that raising money via fees and/or taxes in order to make the T more attractive (lower fares, improved service and reliability) is a good idea. However, raising the tax on gasoline unduly burdens people at an economic disadvantage, either because their incomes are modest or because they live in areas where jobs are relatively few and/or low-paying and they must commute relatively long distances to provide for themselves and their families. Rather than tax people who drive, why not raise the same money from employers of at least a certain size? This would have less effect on the western part of the Commonwealth, little if any effect on people of limited means who must drive to work, and might encourge some creativity on the part of those employers that would have the effect of reducing the total amount of commuting associated with their business. When a business can demonstrate that their program reduces commuting by some amount, they could get a credit against this tax program. What’s right and would work for one company might be completely different for another. For example, at least in some cases it might make sense for some employees to work 4 10-hour days a week instead of 5 8-hour days. That would reduce their commuting miles by 20%.

  34. Agree with any measure that cuts down CO2 emissions. I doubt that a tax increase would cost more than what many frequent T riders already pay in fares, especially if it’s scaled to income.
    However, I’d like the tax proceeds to go also toward big improvement projects on the T that could increase service and reliability, but that are unlikely to get done without substantial investment. I’d also like thorough oversight to ensure that the money is being used efficiently and thoughtfully. Not sure where all the extra fare money has gone over the past 20 years of fare increases
    Is a carbon tax out of the question if it’s not in a broader regional context? And is an institutional endowment tax like the one proposed in the 2018 gubernatorial race off the table?

  35. Anything to get people out of their cars. A gas tax is necessary, even completely apart from this issue. We have oversubsidized gas in this country for years. Try renting a car in Europe, where the gas prices reflect the cost to the environment.
    Another problem is that while most (I assume) commuters are going straight into the center of town and out again, there are many people who don’t use the spokes of the wheel to get where they need to go, and that is very hard to do with the current system. I live in Watertown and work in Brookline. It’s not far, but there’s no practical way to take public transit from home to work, and too much of the route is unsafe for biking. Driving crosstown, as anyone knows, is a traffic nightmare.
    I do agree with making public transit as cheap as possible for everyone. I volunteer at a homeless cafe and everytime we warn our patrons about a fare increase, you should hear the groans. They can’t afford it, and neither can a lot of people who face poverty and scarcity issues. And if it’s cheap for everyone, it blunts the argument from some quarters who don’t want “their” money going to “other” people.

  36. Gas taxes yes, but not other types. We’re Seniors on Fixed Income and we pay too much here in Belmont.

  37. This approach would, hopefully, cut down on some driving in cars, and that would help the environmental emissions-reduction goal. Persons without cars would benefit, and this is a good use of funds.

  38. I am trying to square this message with an earlier one that you sent about how Toronto addressed its challenges. I can’t help but think that our tax dollars are STILL going to to folks who are in stuck in some irrelevant and unhelpful past.

    1. Toronto has developed a great purchasing approach that could help us speed up change — especially for the big possible rail projects.

      But I think a lot of good work is getting done right now using traditional procurement methods.

  39. I LOVE YOUR IDEA!!! First things first. Why is the T tied down with the debt from the Big Dig? How was that considered appropriate? I know why the T has been so neglected…all the media, commercials, etc. encourages Americans to be independent–instead of being community-oriented and adequately funding the T, workers sit in traffic for hours every day, with cars spewing out more fumes. How stupid is that? How selfish is it that the orange line, which travels through Boston, among the poorest residents, has had the oldest, dumpiest cars? The Green line cars are spiffy-looking. Americans, grow up and see how you’re being used so that others who pretend they are not vulnerable to environmental disasters can make billions of dollars!

  40. It might be a good idea. Right now it’s unfair the way fares are collected. Some people pay. Some don’t.

    I take at least 4 busses every day and see people getting on for free every day. All it takes is a brief “song and dance” to the bus driver and the rider is usually waved on for free. When I emailed the MBTA to inquire about this, they said the driver is only required to request the fare, but not to enforce it, so apparently this policy is well known among folks riding the system.

    Social policy, as regards who pays fares, should not be getting set by the individual bus drivers. These issues need to be aired and discussed and decided by public consensus.

    It seems particularly unfair when taking the express buses. The riders pay extra to ride those busses. I think it creates unfairness, then, when the bus drivers wave some riders on for free… especially when, as with the 502/504 express bus, there is an alternative non-express bus available that will take the rider to the same destination.

    I don’t have the answers. Just sharing my own experiences.

  41. Will,
    I support this 100%. The gasoline tax hasn’t increased for many years while costs continue to rise. We should definitely be encouraging transit over uber as these ride shares are now cluttering our roads. I drive regularly to Worcester but would be willing to pay more via an increased gas tax especially if it meant that the Worcester Regional Transit Authority could provide better service to its mostly low income riders. Thanks for your work on this.
    Kathryn

  42. Impressive answers! Especially poor Carolyn. (Hope I got the essay writer Correct.
    *We taxing Democrats know you can’t do one thing for free. All these parking lots for example
    *Not every Lyft or Uber is occupied by 1 person. I’ve been crammed going from a hospital or University.
    *Unintended consequences. The rental tax to punish Airbnb has decimated income for many poor & elderly people. The $ was meant to come from renter to state but owners end up paying when renters balk
    *My daughter and her partner, next to 2 Fitchburg stops couldn’t make it work financially to get to work in Harvard square. They use a lot farther away & walk
    *I had to call a Lyft for a family I help in a “satellite shelter” in Dorchester. The choices for many people just don’t work and may be unsafe
    *Snow, uneven sidewalks, lack of shelter all impact the disabled & elderly. These may be exactly the people we want to help in our we know best way.
    *In Belmont we hired an interim administrator (friend of sudden retired) for one year. Their base retirement salary upped Significantly. I’m prounion but I know cronyism when I see it.
    *I strongly support reduced fares for those who can’t afford it. More overhead? We already use this for senior citizens, reduced lunch, etc. Armed forces get discounts in various places. If it’s optional and never includes SSN we could ask for some version of Mass Health, SNAP I don’t know. Monthly passes reduced for tolls & Public transportation. Someone must have data.
    * Strongly agree gas tax is regressive. My friend has 3 kids on Medicaid and doctors appointments every where!
    *SUVs? Yep. Excise tax please. We got so many gas guzzlers off the roads with that “other program” (sorry!) Inspections, gas tax increases. Trucks on car chassises (sp) are dangerous as heck, I can’t safely see over these huge headlight blinding things in my little car.
    Unintended consequences everywhere.
    *What are other cities doing?
    *In LA I stopped taking a bus to a bus when I became carpool fodder. They have their own lane! (And more room to do so)
    I’m sure there’s more lol. I can’t afford my taxes as is in Belmont. Going to have to move & give them a nice big family for their school system.

  43. The huge tax increase I just voted for to build a new high school for future Belmont kids is plenty; and is costing us way more than I was told it was going to be! Now we have the town dog officer wanting to give out tickets at the dog designated parks unless we buy an “off leash pass” for $50. This is not the time to ask for another tax increase for anything in Belmont……

    1. Kathy I agree with you
      Cut the pensions of the MBTA- too many people ride the T at morning rush hour
      We are taxed to death

  44. I disagree 100% because for most people, public transportation isn’t an option.

    According to Google Maps, my old commute from Brighton to Needham by car is 26 minutes, by public transportation 61 minutes. During snow emergencies, when parking in Brighton was almost impossible, I would take off work rather than try and take public transportation to work, seriously. Why? Because the T becomes even more unreliable and taking the T requires a .4 mile walk on a very busy road that doesn’t plow the sidewalks.

    Having recently been evicted from my apartment so the new developer/owner could raise the rent of my unit $1,500.00 per month, my current commute is an hour and 14 minutes by car and 2 hours and 22 minutes (which includes 39 minutes of walking hours by public transportation, if I perfectly match the schedule. If I work until 7 pm, my ride home by car is about 45 minutes. By T, 3 hours and 18 minutes. Public transportation could be free and I wouldn’t do that.

    For most people, public transportation isn’t an option.

  45. Hi Will, Thanks again for your advocacy for public transit. A huge challenge for the near-suburbs to the west is accessibility to the T. Lowering fares will not change that. Alewife is a mess. The old expression “time is money?” I think most people would not change their habits for 50% lower fares if they still have to spend 30 minutes stuck in traffic getting to and from the T in the first place. While extending the T out from Alewife would be a huge investment, how about leaving the fares alone but providing free or near-free parking near the intersection of 128 and route 2, and express buses from there every 10 minutes with priority lanes to Alewife. Has this ever been studied?

  46. I completely disagree and oppose raising gas taxes and/or fees on ride sharing. Cutting fares on the T will do nothing for ridership; the service is antiquated, poor and unreliable. People get what they pay for with transit options and you don’t need to subsidize one group on the back of others.

  47. Just a terrible idea! Why do democrats believe that they can fix things just by throwing money at it? As I have stated before the T is a place for the friends of our politicians who happily donate to their campaigns, it is also a place that has never been managed very well, and when management does come up with a bright idea the unions kill it. As I stated on an earlier response regarding the T they must first fix their own house by staffing properly (I mean reducing their management staff), they must manage the system like a private company would manage it, and the politicians must stop getting their friends jobs there. If they can accomplish this we will have a better idea on what is needed in additional funding. I am tired of paying more taxes to fund mismanaged systems.

    1. Private companies are not actually particularly good at managing things, it’s just that the especially incompetent ones will tend to go out of business relatively quickly. That said, if the T actually hired enough people for things like managing capital projects or supervising bus service, I am sure things would get noticeably better. The problem is that the only responses the State seems to have to T management problems are either austerity or reshuffling the top managers.

  48. No Fred, you are 100% correct.
    When I first met Senator Brownsberger, he and I had a email discussion about the out of wack salaries at the T. I just looked up the one person that I know that works at the T, in 2018 he made $118K. My guess is that if his job were advertised as available and the pay was $75k, you could fill the convention center with potential applicants. And let’s not even talk about the retirement benefits of T workers compared to most people’s benefits.

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