MBTA Fare Increases

The MBTA’s board made a decision on these increases on Monday, March 11. They compromised — raising subway and commuter rail fares, but holding down fares for buses and riders who already get discounted rates — seniors, students and people with disabilities. They responded to the need for revenues while trying to reduce the burden for lower income riders (who tend to use buses more heavily). Read the details here.

The MBTA’s governing board is considering a fare increase that will average 6.3% for T riders, effective July 1, 2019.

The big picture is that we want more people riding public transportation. As development continues across the region, our roads are becoming more and more congested. It will take a sustained focus on improving public transportation to reshape development patterns and make public transportation viable for more travelers.

To support the necessary investments, we will need to raise revenue. A number of approaches are possible, including congestion pricing, tolling of more roadways, regional transit ballot initiatives, carbon pricing and the old-fashioned gas tax. Our Senate President has expressed willingness to begin the conversation about transportation improvement in earnest in the current legislative session.

In the long run, we should move towards lowering the fares for public transportation riders, even eliminating fares. Especially on very expensive commuter rail routes, some riders are deterred by high fares. We want riders at all income levels to be able to choose public transportation.

For now, we know that currently available revenue is insufficient to fund even the “state of good repair” plans of the MBTA, never mind expansions. For most riders, the biggest concern is not cost. They are more concerned about reliability and congestion. If the public will support substantial new revenues for transit, I firmly believe that those revenues should first be devoted to maintenance and service improvement.

The proposed increase is not a game changer for the MBTA. Fares are only about one third of the MBTA’s funding — the bulk (59.5%) of the MBTA’s funding comes from the taxpayers through state and local government contributions. The fare increase is under 7%.

In 2016, after extensive negotiation, the legislature regulated the MBTA’s fare increases, limiting them to 7% every two years. The current proposal fits within that limit.

Several additional observations should be made regarding the context of the fare proposal. First, fare evasion, especially on the commuter rail, is a reality. However, the MBTA is making both ongoing and long term efforts to reduce fare evasion. Over the next two years, the MBTA’s automated fare collection “2.0” will be rolled out. It will maximize fare collection while also reducing boarding delays.

Second, some have expressed concerns about the MBTA’s level of outreach and public process around the fare increase. The outreach has been extensive and the decision about the fare increase will reflect extended deliberation by T’s Fiscal Management and Control Board. That said, I’m always for improving the public process and the legislature’s Transportation Committee will likely conduct after-the-fact oversight hearings about the fare increase and the fare increase process.

Finally, there are valid concerns about the cost of pension benefits for MBTA workers. For better or worse, under federal transportation law, these concerns need to be resolved through collective bargaining as opposed to state legislation. MBTA management is well aware of its fiduciary responsibility to address the sustainability and fairness of the pension plan in the context of bargaining about many competing considerations. One significant increment of progress was accomplished recently through collective bargaining — to require the publication of full and complete annual financial reports for pension funds, including outside audits.

The MBTA’s board will soon make a decision on their proposed fare increase. The increase is modest and within the parameters that the legislature has defined. The decision about the increase belongs to the MBTA board and I would not support any legislative intervention to block it.

Regardless of the board’s decision, over the coming months and years, I will continue to press for transportation improvements on many fronts for transit riders and for drivers.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

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77 Comments

  1. I agree with having it lower or free long term. How about getting more from the larger universities and colleges like BC, BU, Harvard, Northeastern, MIT, Tufts, etc as well as the 4 major sports teams as it is only a benefit to them if we have a first class public transportation system.

  2. I don’t know if you want to hear from someone outside your district, but as a lifelong Brighton resident (up until a few years ago), I hope you’ll take this comment. When I ride commuter rail from Natick Center, which has no ticket machine, the fare is only collected about half the time. I’m prepared to pay, but no one collects the money. On a weekend trip from Allston to Yawkey on the train, we stood with the conductor for the short ride, and he never asked for the fare. Many times on the D line, the driver has waved people on or put his hand over the fare machine. It’s not right to raise fares when the staff are not collecting money when they should, and ticket machines are not available at all stations. I feel sorry for the people who buy passes. Thanks for all you do!

    1. It’s not like the T doesn’t care about collecting. There are just situations where enforcement is challenging. There is also sometimes a tradeoff between moving the people along and checking for scoff-laws.

      But the T’s new fare system, coming soon should reduce the abuses.

  3. Quite thoughtful, as usual, Will.
    Would it be possible to bundle one or more of the additional features required to fund and improve transportation and reduce our carbon foot at the same time?

    It seems that would go over with MBTA riders if they felt they were not the only ones being relied upon to solve these problems.

    Dick

    1. Worth noting that the taxpayer contributions are also going up, but that is automatic, so there is no discussion.

      I think we should be doing a bundle of investment-level revenue concepts, but that won’t happen before the fare increase, which is basically routine.

  4. Sad their solution is always more money. Presumably sane people are speaking of autonomous vehicles, yet the back car in a tandem subway still needs a driver. A guard would be cheaper than a driver. When is the last time the T eliminated a layer of management?

  5. Yes, raise the fares. Add a gasoline tax for use on upgrading mass transportation. Steer a portion of other taxes to transportation upgrades. Help spread the population outside expensive and congested Boston along reliable transportation hubs.

  6. Dear Mr. Brownsberger,

    How will the proposed fare increase affect fares for Senior Citizens, those
    65 years old and older.

    Thank you.

  7. Thanks, Will. The long-term goal (for the planet) is carbon elimination. I’m all for a (major) increase in the gas tax, carbon pricing and congestion pricing. I understand the T’s need to raise fares. But I also volunteer for an outreach service that feeds the homeless, and these guys are really going to be hurt be even a 7% increase. I know this isn’t something that’s technically the T’s problem, but since the mayor is willing to subsidize student fares (all good), can we somehow look at helping out the working and non-working poor in this regard? Something like a reduced-rate monthly pass for subway/buses would help a lot of these folks.

  8. I often get on the T at Cleveland Circle. Those trains have just come out of the yard and for whatever reason the boarding counter/sensor is often not fully on. When that happens the driver just waves the passengers on, which is certainly the right thing to do. However, once the counter is turned on the driver could and should ask the passengers who were waved on to come pay their fare. I suppose there is some reason why they don’t do that, but if you are looking for ways to raise revenue that don’t cost anything this should be on the list.

  9. I agree that this raise in T fares is needed. But what MA really needs is a raise in the gas tax.

  10. Most people agree more funding is needed for public transport here in Boston. The proposed increases are not overly heavy either. However, the real revenue issue is too many cars on the road not paying their fair share. Companies whose employees rely on the MBTA to get to work should also pay their fair share through taxes and community improvement projects instead of receiving tax incentives and tax breaks that do nothing but force citizens in the community to carry more of the burden. As for MBTA pay, MBTA workers are already compensated more than adequately – especially when compared to other workers in the private sector. There is a good chance the increased revenue will go towards wasted and unnecessary projects and increased salaries as opposed to real improvement that the daily riders can see and experience. Until you can prove otherwise, people that use the MBTA should not have to pay any increases. In short, do a better job and then we can talk about increasing fares.

  11. How about “collecting” fares the way buses and metro systems throughout the rest of the world do. I.e. you buy a ticket, you validate it when you board the bus or subway, and you’re done. Of course there are multi-day and monthly passes too.

    If you’re caught riding without a validated ticket, or a pass then you’re subject to a stiff fine.

    Someone’s going to claim that this will allow or even encourage cheating, or that it flat out won’t work here. But frankly I think if you investigate, you’ll find that cheating is statistically very low where this system is used. And it’s got to be better than the current system and watching cheaters jump the stiles or tailgate through behind paying passengers. I suspect that if enough cheaters get caught, it’d be self correcting.

    I kinda suspect that this system came about originally as a cost saving scheme.

    I’d also like to see a plan for continuous – slowly perhaps – continuous expansion of the T. If you look at other metro systems around the world, they seem to be constantly expanding. It seems almost criminal that except for the Green Line extension to Medford that nothing has been added to the T in the 25 years I’ve lived here. I never thought I’d see Los Angeles’ underground metro system surpass Boston’s, but it very easily could in the very near future.

  12. I commute from Watertown to Kendall Square. Twenty-five minutes to drive, eighty minutes to walk + bus + Red Line. I would be more incented to use the T if access, ie, ability to drive and park (for a reasonable monthly fee) at a station was available.

  13. I was on the commuter rail recently and was told that the lower $10 weekend fare was increasing ridership. I worry that raising fares will not increase riders, but that many people will simply not use the T.I don’t think raising fares will get the revenue the MBTA is expecting and it will have poor effects on the environment as well. Please reconsider your position and vote no for a fare increase.

  14. A gas tax sounds OK but it is terribly
    regressive. A $1.00/gal. additional tax
    means little to high earners, but would hurt working class families much more.
    Maybe it’s better to tax gas guzzlers or
    more costly and/or younger vehicles?

  15. We constantly subsidize single-car drivers with “free” parking, widening Routes 93 and 3 – with NO rewards for carpooling or HOV lanes, or tolls.
    It’s time to TAX the single car drivers and use that money to fund public transit infrastructure.
    There must be a benefit to riding transit, and if it’s SLOWER than driving alone, then people sit for hours in their cars for “convenience.”

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