T leader wants to explore university pass option

The idea didn’t work out too well last time around.

The Harvard Square T station.
The Harvard Square T station. –The Boston Globe

The chairman of the T’s governing board wants the agency to give the old college try to selling transit passes to local universities.

Joseph Aiello, who leads the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s governing board, on Wednesday suggested the agency try to revisit and revise an idea first proposed in 2014: to sell large quantities of discounted passes to colleges and universities. Under the plan, schools would provide every student with a pass, potentially making up the cost by charging for the monthly pass as part of students’ tuition and fees.

“I think we got a disappointing response from the universities, is a polite way of saying it,’’ he said. “Perhaps we should consider a more formal communication … to all of the colleges and universities to see if we could revise such a matter.’’


The MBTA already allows Boston-area schools to buy discounted semester-long passes for students, who purchase the pass through the school. The passes are sold on a student-by-student basis, whereas the program discussed in 2014 would have seen schools buy passes for all students at a larger discount.

Aiello said the program could be a revenue generator for the fiscally challenged T. An MBTA presentation from 2014 said that if three targeted schools—Tufts, Northeastern, and Harvard—participated, it could represent a boost of $11 million.

The idea was explored toward the end of the tenure of former Gov. Deval Patrick. Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack, who began in the position in early 2015 when Gov. Charlie Baker took office, said it fell flat with schools.

“When I first became secretary, they were at the tail-end of trying to market it,’’ Pollack said. “So I was actually asked if I would do a meeting—maybe it would attract more universities if it was the secretary. And, no one. I mean, one or two schools sent very junior level staff. … So that was sort of eye-opening for me, how little response.’’

But she agreed that a university pass “seems to be missing’’ among the T’s fare options.


Aiello pointed to recruiting material on schools’ websites that say public transit access is a reason to come to Boston. He read a passage from Harvard saying the Harvard Square T station means students can get “anywhere you need to go.’’

“They got those naming rights for nothing, I think, by the way,’’ he said of the station’s name.

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