The MBTA is proposing changes to its fare structure to try to simplify how much rides cost and boost ridership. But the proposed changes don’t include a discounted fare for low-income riders that the MBTA has long discussed, transit advocates have long called for, and the MBTA’s previous oversight board supported.
Currently, the T offers reduced fares for seniors, people with disabilities, some middle and high school students, and people with low incomes between the ages of 18 and 25.
But advocates have, for years, pressed the transit agency to pilot a reduced fare for low-income people of all ages.
“This is woefully insufficient and hugely disappointing,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance. “I don’t see how they can justify these actions.”
If approved by the MBTA’s board of directors in March, the changes the T proposed Thursday would lower the cost of a one-day pass from $12.75 to $11, allow for two transfers for the price of one trip, make permanent its five-day flex pass for commuter rail, and add new seven-day and monthly unlimited passes for riders who qualify for reduced fares.
Jarred Johnson, director of the advocacy group Transit Matters, said he is happy about the proposed changes, but disappointed the MBTA still hasn’t taken action on an all-ages low-income fare.
“These are great but we need to see the action plan for bringing low-income fares online,” he said. “The previous board mandated that staff come up with a plan and a pilot and we’re not seeing movement on that.”
At one of the last meetings of the MBTA’s previous oversight board, the Fiscal Management and Control Board, in June 2021, members instructed the MBTA to present proposals for a nine-month, low-income fare pilot program to the agency’s new board of directors in October, finalize the program by December, and begin implementing it as soon as July 2022.
The MBTA’s new board of directors has been meeting since October and has not yet raised the subject of a low-income fare.
MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said the board has requested that MBTA staff deliver a presentation on low-income fares next month.
“The MBTA is continuing its steady work of getting the new board up to speed on several different matters, including the issue of means-tested fares,” he said via e-mail.
An MIT study in 2019 found that MBTA riders who received lower fares took about 30 percent more trips and took more trips to health care and social services.
Monica Tibbits-Nutt, executive director at 128 Business Council and former member of the FMCB, the T’s previous oversight board, said the proposed changes announced Thursday are a missed opportunity.
“This is not enough, it’s not even close,” she said. “It continues to be kicked down the road and it feels like it’s never going to happen.”
State Representative William Straus of Mattapoisett, House chair of the Legislature’s transportation committee, said he’s encouraged to see some of the MBTA’s proposed changes will affect low-income riders, but would like to see more.
Last year the Legislature passed a proposal as part of its transportation bond bill that would have used a new 20-cent fee on Uber and Lyft rides in central Boston to create a low-income fare program at the MBTA. Governor Charlie Baker vetoed the proposal, while approving the broader borrowing package.
“They’re nibbling at the edges,” Straus, a Democrat, said. “We’d have been a year ahead of the effort had the governor not vetoed in January the provisions we sent him.”
A similar proposal is currently pending in the Legislature.
Tibbits-Nutt said she is not hopeful the low-income fare pilot will happen in the time frame mandated by the previous board given it was left out of Thursday’s fare announcement.
“Hopefully whoever is the next governor will right these wrongs,” Tibbits-Nutt said. “That’s my biggest hope, that someone will fix this.”