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Slow Ride: The MBTA And The Search For A Budget Fix

(Courtesy: B Tal/Flickr)

(Courtesy: B Tal/Flickr)

OK. So by now, you’ve probably heard the headlines. The MBTA has proposed raising fares. By a lot. More than 40 percent under one scenario.

So a light rail ride that now costs you $1.70 on your CharlieCard, could jump to $2.40. A bus ride could rise from $1.25 to $1.75.

To be honest, I’m a frequent T rider, so the thought of paying $2.40 for a trip from Kenmore to Harvard Squares just hurts. But then, the T’s also proposing slashing dozens of bus routes and severely curtailing commuter rail service.

To be fair, none of this is set in stone. It’s also the first time the MBTA has proposed raising fares in five years. Plus, the T is legally obligated to do something to bridge its $161 million budget gap.

In other words, as Richard Davey, secretary of transportation says, to keep public transit viable, the MBTA must do something.

“We expect to get some feedback, certainly, from our customers,” Davey told reporters earlier this week. “Hopefully some ideas that we haven’t thought of. We don’t have all the solutions, certainly. And we look forward to hearing that.”

Well, OK! We’ve decided to take up Secretary Davey’s challenge. We’re going to do some outside-the-box big thinking about public transit in Massachusetts, and look beyond raising fares and slashing service, to see what creative solutions are out there that can keep the trains and buses running, and even improve service.


  • Lee Matsueda, program director, T Riders Union at the advocacy group Alternatives for Community and Environment
  • Yonah Freemark, contributor to the Atlantic Magazine and author of the transportation policy blog, The Transport Politic


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  • Anonymous

    Raise the single ride trips more than the monthly passes.  An infrequent uses can afford to pay more for a service they don’t rely on.

    • Anonymous

      They end up paying more anyway if they buy monthly services at single ride prices.  Why subsidize stupidity and poor planning?

  • Anonymous

    Any comparison of the poor and limited MBTA service to NY when they mention prices is a joke. 

  • Anonymous

    Cutting the weekend E line and commuter rail while expanding to Fall River and New Bedford and the green line to Somerville is foolish.  Maintain existing services before expanding.

  • Anonymous

    Ban eating on trains, buses, and in stations to reduce cleaning costs.

  • Anonymous

    How much does the T waste on branding?  Do we need Charlie mascots on construction signs?  Does the commuter rail schedule need to be four color printing on glossy paper?  How much was wasted on the silly Kenmore bus station roof?

  • Anonymous

    Remove half the stations on the Green line to reduce staffing and maintenance costs and make the trains faster.

  • Anonymous

    No free rides on New Year’s Eve.

  • Tony

    One of the biggest facets of this debate that must first be realized is that there are billions of dollars of infrastrcuture repairs/upgrades that must be undertaken regardless of reduction or elimination of service.  The MBTA infrasturcture has been neglected for many years.

  • Matt

    Raise tolls to fund transit or implement a congestion pricing scheme.  Raising fares and reducing services makes it cheaper and easier to drive.  Encouraging driving isn’t what we need in Boston.

    • http://twitter.com/TonyTheEngineer Anthony Puntin

      I agree.  We pay a price for riding the T, but do not pay the cost of riding the T. 

  • Anonymous

    Keep the rates down for everyone as much as possible instead of creating additional classes.  This is a very expensive city and many of us are trying to get by but aren’t technically low income. 

  • Barnes

    Implement a better fare collection system on the commuter rail. How many free rides are given because the conductors have too many other (more important) responsibilities?

    • Bobose3

      Yes — and on the above-ground Green lines. I see many, MANY people getting on through the rear doors without showing a ticket at all or maybe just generally waving a Charlie Card (any Charlie Card) in the air. Supposedly the conductor is taking notice (but couldn’t possibly notice, given the number of people boarding and that they are also monitoring people boarding at the front of the car, and anyway they can’t tell whose Charlie Cards are even activated). 

      Why not at least put automated card readers in the rear doors of Green line cars?

  • Paul Fisette

        There are many options a creative MBTA could be looking at prior to raising fares.
    Advertizing – On the tunnels in between stations (which has been done previously between Harvard and Central) , on the Charlie Cards, on the trains themselves.  We can do this in a way that brings in revenue without being invasive.
    An independant audit of the MBTA – any rider of the T can tell you that T employees are not utilized in a cost effective manner.
    Renting out space to small vendors to allow them to do business in larger stations.
    In regards to looking at revenue – the city should be looking at places like Fenway, The Boston Garden, BC, BU whose footprint on the city directly contributes to rider increases on certain lines at certain times. (anyone who has ridden the green line on a game day, or the first day back to school for BU students, knows what I am talking about) 

  • Ed Katebi

    How about allowing non-folding bikes on commuter trains and the T during rush hours? 

    • Anonymous

      There is already no room for people at peak times.

      • Ed Katebi

        I think, as Amsterdam and other cities have demonstrated, combination of bikes and public transportation would greatly improve the transportation and air quality of the state and the city.

  • LuLu965

    What per cent of the MBTA budget goes to the T police?  I have seen 5-10 standing around at T stations on the Red Line for “security screens” not screening anyone.  Where does this personnel come from?  What are they not doing at the expense of this useless exercise?  Are they getting paid overtime?  How big is the management team?  Maybe a smaller security force could get the &^%$$ trains fixed!

    • Anonymous

      And doesn’t the deputy chief have more important things to do than record announcements “Do you have a cell phone?  Of course you do . . . . . . . . . . . . ” and about “fare evaduz”

  • http://www.fibrowitch.net Jan Dumas

    Remove the Big Dig  and forward funding debt from the budget!  2/3 of the “debt” the T is under is not debt at all. Then when we have an idea of what the real debt is we can look at ways to fix the problem.

  • Matt

    Boston Public Schools and the T can team up to help lower both of their defecits.
    BPS pays the T and hires chaperones to replace bus routes for elementary schools. 

    Use current GPS, networking and planning technology to develop routes and real-time tracking.

    Have a “Yellow Car” on every train.

    • RTS8400

      A very clever idea, however, current FTA regulations prohibit the MBTA from entering into such an agreement with BPS. It has been forbidden for the T to provide charter service (or anything very similar to it) since 1976. While the T does provide “supplementary bus service” (a.k.a. “school trippers”/”school day extras”) FTA regulations require that everyone and anyone be allowed ride them and that they follow existing regular routes. I’m sure the T and BPS could come up with something that is FTA regulation-friendly, but if you look at the number of such trips operated by the T in, say, 1990 and now there has been a dramatic decrease. It would seem that the T prefers to improve the regular service that students use rather than create more supplemental services.

  • Charlie D.

    Limit overtime pay. If you look at the 2011 incomes of MBTA employees, there are many who are making well over their base salary due to overtime. We simply cannot afford to keep doing this.


    Raise the gas tax. It hasn’t been raised since 1991. T fares have risen 3 times since then. Use part or all of the additional gas tax revenue to fund the T (in the Boston area) and to fund other regional transit agencies (who are also looking at potential fare hikes and service cuts).

    • kate

      I’m not paying additional gas tax to get to work so you can pay less for your transportation. You have  nerve.

      • Anonymous

        enjoy the gridlock.  Our tax money pays for roads that we aren’t using. 

        • dot

          That makes a lot of sense. You mean you haven’t travelled on every road in the state?

    • jerry

      The T has cut overtime a lot and as a result many bus trips are not operated when someone calls in sick, because they are not allowed to pay overtime.

  • Eco_girl_boston

    Zones!!  I am far more likely to take a train between Harvard and Cental Squares if I am only paying a portion of the fare.  For the price of a full fare, I will walk a shorter distance rather than taking the T.
    I am not sure if this came up during the Germany discussion, but the entire system is based on zones.  With Charlie cards, the start and end of a trip can easily be tracked and the appropriate fare deducted from the card.

  • Rachel

    Just to clarify one of the caller’s concerns: students at private universities in the Boston area do NOT get reduced fare rates for riding the T. 

  • Bob

    1. More advertising to increase revenue.
    2. Make T stations such as Downtown Crossing and Back Bay into full-scale shopping centers and make smaller stations into mini-mall plazas, complete with grocery stores, dry cleaners, restaurants and even post offices and day care centers.  Improve convenience and people will come to see that riding the T can improve their whole quality of life.
    3. Keep the T cleaner — I know people who avoid riding the T because it is so grungy and grimey.

    As it stands now, many people think of riding the T as a necessary evil that they avoid whenever possible. Better to improve the T in ways that will make people feel glad to ride the T because it improves their standard of living (rather than making them feel like they’re living in a slum).

  • Akfaka

    Mr. Richard Davey fire all your incompetent useless employees before you think of hiking fees and cutting services on us!!!

  • http://twitter.com/curiositykt curiositykt

    INCREASE services on the commuter rail! It makes absolutely no sense for me to take the train that is 2 blocks from my house to my office which is 2 blocks from the train because of the times that the train runs…. So instead I drive. And this is common among my coworkers, the train is right there but it’s not convenient! Also I would not take away weekend services, but I would advertise them better as it’s much easier to get into the city for events on the trains and T than find parking, but most people don’t do this. 

  • Nbrave8

    The T needs ti INCREASE service if it wants ridership…which translates to $$$$$’s.

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