MBTA announces fare and ticketing system changes but no low-income pricing

Public comment on these changes is open for several more weeks.

Erin Clark/Globe Staff
The MBTA has installed fare readers along the Fairmont commuter line, enabling riders to use money stored on their electronic CharlieCards to pay.

The MBTA announced proposed changes to subway, bus, and other MBTA fares at a public Zoom meeting Thursday evening, but many activists and riders were disappointed to hear that low-income pricing was not introduced and wouldn’t be anytime soon.

MBTA officials began by explaining three overarching goals that guided these fare changes: equity for reduced fare riders, maintaining stable revenue, and simplifying fares.

The first change they announced was that they would add a reduced fare option for monthly passes on the Commuter Rail, Express Buses, and on ferries.

The MBTA would also add seven-day LinkPasses at a reduced fare rate, as well as make reduced rate LinkPasses valid in Commuter Rail Zone 1A and on the inner harbor ferry. Officials said this would allow reduced fare riders to benefit from bulk purchasing even if they can’t afford to pay for a monthly pass all at once.


Those eligible for reduced fares include people over 65, people with disabilities, middle and high school students, and YouthPass participants.

The second change announced was that the MBTA would lower the price of a one-day LinkPass from $12.75 to $11. The pass would now pay for itself if a rider takes five rides within 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 equal to 10% off five one-day passes, and bridges the gap between a one-day Commuter Rail pass and a monthly Commuter Rail pass.

Lastly, MBTA officials announced it would allow all combinations of second transfers involving buses and subway, and one transfer between Express Buses to help simplify travel. This includes bus to bus to subway, subway to bus to bus, and Express Bus to Express Bus.

While commenters 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 — praised 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, assistant manager for policy and transit planning for the MBTA, responded, saying that the MBTA has looked at needs-based reduced fares for a long time, but that right now the impact that introducing such a program would have on revenue would make operating the MBTA transit system untenable.

Other commenters said they felt that Zone 1 Commuter Rail stations that are within Boston city limits, such as the Hyde Park and Readville stations, should have Zone 1A pricing.

Public comment on these fare changes will be open until March 2 and would go into effect July 1 if approved by the MBTA Board of Directors.

The MBTA also announced proposed changes to the way riders pay for public transit.

The new fare collection system, which would roll out over the next several years, would have many benefits, such as allowing riders to enter through all doors of a subway train or bus, not just the front door with the ticket taker.

The new system would also allow riders to pay fares with contactless credit cards and mobile touchless pay programs such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.


One big problem that would be fixed by the new system is riders getting stuck at a station due to running out of money or running out of money at a station with no machine to purchase tickets. The new system would allow riders to have at least one free ride when their card or ticket is out.

Some riders may be dismayed that with the new system in place they would be unable to use the same card to pay for multiple riders, due to the requirement that each individual person show proof of payment.

The new system would also have riders pay $3 for a new Charlie Card, a payment method that is currently free to acquire.

Public comment on the new fare system will be open until March 31.


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