Starts & Stops

Free fares on the Fairmount line? Mayoral hopefuls bandy ideas to push MBTA for lower prices

Charlene Collins of Dorchester napped on the 8:05 a.m. train of the Fairmont Commuter Rail Line from Talbot Avenue to Boston's South Station. (Staff Photo/Wendy Maeda)
Charlene Collins of Dorchester napped on the 8:05 a.m. train of the Fairmont Commuter Rail Line from Talbot Avenue to Boston's South Station. (Staff Photo/Wendy Maeda) Credit:

On the list of hot-button issues setting the tone for the Boston mayoral race, transportation has not received much air time. But Wednesday night, six of the candidates took a turn giving their thoughts on the MBTA at a Hyde Park candidate forum sponsored by the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation. The topic: the community’s controversial Fairmount commuter rail line.

The Fairmount Line, the only commuter rail line that exists entirely within the Boston city limits, weaves through Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park. It’s provoked outrage from community members who believe train operators should charge regular T prices, rather than more expensive commuter rail fares, and should provide service on nights and weekends.

Joe Smith, a Fairmount Hill resident outraged after taking an expensive trip downtown, told others at Wednesday’s meeting: “I will never take the Fairmount Line again.”

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Six of the candidates, as well as representives for two other mayoral hopefuls, attended the forum, and they all agreed: Taking the Fairmount Line is too expensive.

“Unless we make this line fair, we wasted money building this line,” said State Representative Martin J. Walsh.

The candidates took different tacts on how to push the MBTA to lower the fares and provide better service: City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo wanted to pressure state legislators to raise income taxes to better fund the T system. Charlotte Golar Richie said wanted to help the commuter rail advertise the service to residents.

Bill Walczak took a more combative approach, talking about his efforts to push the T to construct a new platform on the JFK/UMass Station in the 1980s. As mayor, he said, he would be prepared for “fighting with the state” to secure lower fares.

And City Councilor Charles Yancey made a surprising proposition: Eliminate fares on the line altogether.

“I will propose to the new general manager that we offer free service on that line as a way to increase ridership and to promote it,” Yancey said. “And that’s not such a crazy idea.”

Read below to find out what each candidate said.

State Representative Martin J. Walsh:

“I actually supported ... a letter to the MBTA, asking them to make it consistent across the board, so we don’t have this two-fare system where you have a $6 ride and a $2 ride. The intention of this rail line was to allow business groups in those areas to be able to build up strong business groups as well as give people the opportunity for job employment in their neighborhoods and downtown Boston ... unless we make this line fair, we wasted money building this line. I think that’s something that the mayor of Boston, whomever is elected, needs to make sure to insist that this be a fair line.”

City Councilor Charles Yancey:

“I have challenged the Secretary of Transportation and the General Manager of the MBTA to convert this line into a full-service rapid-transit line with evening service and weekend service. But my proposal is, until we get a rapid-transit line in place, and to promote increased ridership, that for a specific period of time, I will propose to the new general manager that we offer free service on that line as a way to increase ridership and to promote it. And that’s not such a crazy idea ... You have to get people to buy the service, and then they are hooked.”

City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo:

“I think it’s entirely unfair that you have a Charlie Card ... but you can’t use that towards the Fairmount Line. I think it’s entirely unfair that if you get on the Fairmount Line, you can’t transfer to the Red Line at South Station without paying. I think that’s not OK. ... Right now, as I speak to you, there is a debate around how do we invest in the MBTA and the infrastucture... the Governor offered a plan that would have raised revenue by $2 billion, investing in our transportation system and our education system ... Know what happened? People were afraid to do that, to stand up for that plan.”

Charlotte Golar Richie, former state representative:

“I strongly believe and wholeheartedly embrace the notion of us having a fair fare structure that is consistent with the Blue Line, with the Green Line, with the Red Line, with the Orange Line ... [We need to] partner with the MBTA and DOT on marketing. We know MBTA can’t run trains that are going to be empty, right? So we want to make sure that our residents understand that we have this wonderful ammenity available. So as mayor, I’d partner with the transportation agencies on marketing, on making sure that everybdy understand that there’s availability around this transportation structure.”

City Councilor Rob Consalvo:

“I live on the rail line, so I speak as an abutter. I am one house away from the rail line ... I certainly recognize the importance of public transportation, what these rail lines — not just this line, but all the lines — can do to spur economic opportunity and economic development and economic growth. Any kind of decisions and discussion on what happens further down the line should be a transparent and fair public process, that the public should have the opportunity to be part of the process. Transparency is critical.”

Bill Walczak, co-founder of the Codman Square Health Center:

“It’s very difficult to work with the MBTA, we all know that ... I can tell you right now that the MBTA is making a huge mistake in not making the fares reasonable and fair for people who live on the Fairmount line. It’s a crazy idea, the idea of limiting access to the line, because all you’re going to wind up doing is having half-empty trains, and then there’s going to be an excuse for saying we have to cut back farther... As mayor, I certainly will support working with the MBTA and fighting with the state if necessary around the issue of how do we create fair fares.”

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