MBTA plans to expand options for discount passengers and allow more free transfers

A pandemic-inspired MBTA commuter rail ticket option for workers with hybrid schedules would become permanent under a new proposal that would also reduce the price of an unlimited day pass on buses and Metro.

The series of fare changes presented by MBTA officials at a committee meeting on Thursday would also allow passengers to make more transfers without incurring additional costs and provide additional options for the subset of commuters eligible for reduced fares. .

Any proposed tariff updates are subject to public comment in the coming weeks and would require approval from the agency’s board of directors, which will likely vote on the issues at a March 24 meeting. If passed, most of the changes will take effect July 1.

MBTA chief executive Steve Poftak said the changes would improve fairness for passengers of all demographic groups and prepare the agency for the technological changes that will come as an automated fare collection system is implemented. online over the next few years.

“If approved by the MBTA Board of Directors in March, these proposals will allow the T to continue to best meet the needs of passengers through incremental fare improvements that reflect the way they travel now and in the future. future, while minimizing revenue implications in this time of continued uncertainty,” Poftak said.

The proposal would make permanent the “FlexPass” commuter rail mTicket pilot program launched in June 2020. This program offers five days of unlimited commuter rail travel over a 30-day period at a 10% discount on standard tickets. The program is for workers whose commuting habits have changed due to the pandemic and the rise of remote work.

T officials have suggested cutting the cost of a one-day LinkPass — which offers unlimited local bus, subway, Silver Line, Zone 1A commuter rail and Charlestown ferry service — by $12. $75 to $11.

The MBTA offers reduced rates to people with disabilities and Medicare cardholders, seniors 65 and older, middle and high school students at schools enrolled in the Student Pass program, and low-income young adults ages 18-25. .

The changes also include three new options for passengers who currently enjoy discounted fares: the launch of an unlimited seven-day LinkPass for $10, less than half the $22.50 cost of a traditional seven-day pass days ; offering monthly passes on commuter rail, ferries and express buses for around 50% of the total price; and allowing the use of LinkPass at a reduced rate in zone 1A of the commuter rail and Charlestown ferry.

While agency officials will push their new plan to make more ticket types available to discount passengers, they are not looking to change eligibility criteria or expand the pool of people who can access these options. .

Lawmakers and transportation advocates have stepped up pressure on the T to expand discounted fare options, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused disproportionate damage in low-income areas and communities of color .

At the same time, calls have grown for public transit to move away from reliance on fares altogether, with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu making the promotion of free options a central part of her campaign.

Ridership fell sharply at the start of the pandemic and remains well below pre-COVID levels after a slow but steady recovery. In December, Poftak told the agency’s board that passenger numbers hovered between 65% and 70% of February 2020 levels for bus lines, between 45% and 50% for subway lines and commuter train and between 35 and 40% for ferries. The T was able to offset its slump in revenue from fares with the arrival of large federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Another part of the tariff plan would allow passengers to make additional transfers with one click without paying again. Under the current policy, most travelers can transfer between buses and subways and can only transfer twice if they are changing from one bus route to the subway and back to another bus route. The new plan would allow for second transfers in any combination between local and express buses and subways.

MBTA staff presented the proposal Thursday morning to the agency’s audit and finance subcommittee ahead of a full board meeting scheduled for Jan. 27.

Officials are planning a virtual public meeting at 6 p.m. on February 10 and another public hearing at 6 p.m. on February 17 to discuss the proposed rate changes. Online public comments will be accepted until March 3.

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