State considering even higher fares at rush hour to save MBTA services

The Metro reports Transportation Secretary Rich Davey is looking at some new possible options for preserving existing T services, including charging higher fares during rush hour.



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This I can listen to

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Demand management is important in every field. However MBTA users need to demand the tolls and gas tax rise at the same rates.


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Time for Johnny Suburbs SUV to pay what he owes. T riders have been paying for those highways under the city for years with old trains and constant delays (except my beloved Orange Line). It's time that folks putting tires to those roads paid for their costs.

While I agree with Johnny

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While I agree with Johnny Suburbs SUV paying up, not everyone who drives is 'that guy'. There are plenty of working families with kids who need a car for work and other purposes who are barely scraping by. Believe it or not, not everyone can get where they need via public transportation. Just a fact.

No, but ninety percent of

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No, but ninety percent of them drive when they could take the bus because only poors take the bus.

This ain't the backwoods,

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This ain't the backwoods, buddy. Around here we don't use pejorative terms like poors.


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Yeah, really. Where I live I see lots of 1%'ers riding the bus and the subway. Even rich people don't like paying $35 a day to park.

Swing districts

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True. Also the MBTA-served areas reliably vote Democratic in state elections, so there's less incentive to pander for those votes from the Governor's office by providing services to these areas.

See "Rail, South Coast" as Exhibit A of this phenomenon.


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Do you not even notice the irony here? Johnny Suburbs likely doesn't drive under the city all that much, but I imagine everyone walking around the city and the MBTA buses going around sure benefit from it.

Yeah, commuters benefited, but so did everyone paying for the big dig. Including all those Sally Suburbs out in the boonies who never even go into the city who still contribute to your gas tax already.

Gas tax is for our poorly maintained roads. Fare increases are the most fair way to go about this, as again - the MBTA is about the only transit system in the country that hasn't raised rates when it had to.

Fares increased in 2000, 2004, and 2007

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When was the last time the gas tax was increased?

People who live out in Western MA benefit from subsidized roads, which are paid for largely by the majority of people who live in the Boston Metro area and its economic engine. Or are you arguing that we should foist the cost of building and maintaining all those rural roads onto the people who live out there?

They're both "use fees"

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As Jeff B said, gas taxes are for funding our poorly maintained roads. Then why haven't they increased in a long time?

Because the voters won't stand for it.

That was my point above. If consumers/voters were faced with a proposition which raised gas taxes by 50 cents a gallon but prices would drop $1 a gallon, everyone would be for it.

Taxes are basically set by elected officials which means the people are going to have a say on how much taxes they are willing to pay.

Two time zones, two passes

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I hesitate to guess what the MBTA might do, but I would issue two kinds of monthly/weekly passes: peak and off-peak. If you try to ride during peak hours with an off-peak pass, you'll have to pay extra. I think you can already maintain a cash balance on a charlie card in addition to a duration pass, so that might be easy to accomplish.

I don't relish adding complexity to the fare system, but I'm pretty sure that peak/off-peak pricing - done right - would spread out the rush hour crowd, which would make the whole system run more efficiently.

Eehhh, not convinced

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I suspect that most people who can alter their work schedules have already done so. Who would voluntarily put themselves on the T during rush hour if they could possibly avoid it? I don't believe that upping the fares will make much of a difference on the crowds.

It would really depend on the

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It would really depend on the numbers. There are always a few leisure riders on the T, even at the height of rush hour. Reducing subway crowding, even by a small percentage, may help.

Also, people traveling at/near the cutoff times, might be inclined to leave 5-10 minutes earlier/later to avoid the surcharges.

I think you'd have to do a rider survey to see what effect rush-hour surcharges would have.

But I think you're probably right; most people don't have that kind of job flexibility.

they do this in the

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they do this in the netherlands with the trains; before 9 am it is 40% more expensive than after. or, how they sell it; after 9 am its 40% cheaper to take the train, and during weekends. (you did need to have a membership at perhaps 100 dollars a year to get the 40% discount). the T here is extremely cheap compared to public transport in the netherlands.
at least, thats how it was when i left, almost 2 years ago.

DC does it too.

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DC does it too. Downside there is that there's no unlimited monthly passes; even daily commuters are paying daily fare (albeit reduced a bit).

The other problem is that if you take the proposed fare hike (42%) and apply it to daily fares (1.70 * 2 for roundtrip), and then extrapolate that over a month, you get a number close to $100, and that's before a rush-hour surcharge. Even if it's heavily reduced for daily riders, this probably doubles the cost of riding the T for daily riders, who are the ones keeping the lights on for the MBTA.

Wouldn't it make sense to

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Wouldn't it make sense to raise fares during off peak hours. For example the T wants to reduce or eliminate service on a number of bus routes do it not being cost efficient because of lower ridership. If the T were to raise fares to cover such a loss in revenue then maybe they can reconsider reduction of service during off peak hours.

I thought of this, too

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but more in the context of the commuter rail to maintain weekend service. My own guess is that people who ride the commuter rail on the weekend are usually people who don't have an alternative, since parking/traffic aren't as much a problem as during the week, so there wouldn't be too much demand destruction from higher prices. I only occasionally ride the commuter rail (visit friends in the burbs, day trip to Providence, or a walk to the deCordova), and I would be happy to pay an extra few bucks over having no options at all.

When will it be cheaper to

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When will it be cheaper to drive then take the T?

Right now it is about even with parking costs and T fare. If the commuter T prices raise exponentially, economically it would make more sense for me to drive into work.

Well it may save overall trip

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Well it may save overall trip time, but when you're on the T you can do other things (read, text, knit, etc) that you really shouldn't be doing when you're driving.

But it does...

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Several times (at my previous job) I've taken the T when I had to get to work. Normally I would drive because it was 35 miles away.

1. It was more expensive because I had to take the commuter rail.
2. It took longer than driving.
3. Several connections were needed to get to my destination (with sometimes bringing a bike for the last 1.5 mi).

It the T can't hit the mark on price, convenience, or timeliness what's the point?

This is an unfortunate

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This is an unfortunate situation. I face the same difficulty - I would love to use the T for my commute to Waltham. But I would have to take 2 different subway lines, the commuter rail, and then either bike or catch a bus/van that my employer set up. If I drive, it's about 35 minutes in the morning and an hour or so in the evening. If I use the T, it's 90 minutes each way and the available train times are unworkable so I would have to either spend 6 hours in the office or spend 12 hours in the office. So I either get fired or divorced, or I drive.


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Have you considered the 70/70A? The latter in particular goes up to a bunch of office parks on I-95.

You have my sympathy

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As my other full time job, I volunteer with the Girl Scouts. They kept scheduling meetings, trainings, and girl programming out at the Waltham office. And every time I complained or declined to attend, I was told "but it's on public transportation!" Except to get to an evening meeting it takes me an hour and a quarter from Back Bay and then 2 hours to get home again afterwards.

Once I showed them the realities and how it was excluding those of us in the urb, they added a lot more trainings and programming in Boston/Cambridge/Somerville. I still have to do the long schlep for task force meetings (note to self, learn how to say no).

Biking is not faster for many people.

Cheaper sure, but so is walking.

Like I said above, there are just too many people who are comfortable driving. These people do not care about MBTA fare hikes, bike lanes, or service cuts to the MBTA.

Deval Patrick doesn't seem to interested either.

Not everyone lives within a

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Not everyone lives within a reasonable distance to bike or has a viable commute route which wouldn't be rather uncomfortable if not unsafe to bike. There's also the issue of inclement weather making a non sheltered vehicle with only two relatively narrow tires not a very comfortable or safe option.

The solution to that is either public better transit (already loosing that battle), drive to work (what the state is pushing since collecting a lot of taxes off the backs of drivers to fund patronage jobs is delightful for the politicians versus having to spend those funds on public transit riders whom vote in lockstep for the same politicians regardless), or (probably the best solution) have denser housing available closer to work in such quantities to meet demand such that the cost of housing is affordable (snob zoning prevents this and the whole term "affordable" has been co-opted by the subsidized housing racket).

Roads and private vehicles provide a better source of tax revenue and return on political investment for expenditures than public transit. This is regardless of the whole issues of density making public transit viable or a boondoggle. Public transit just isn't valuable enough to politicians in general to invest in compared to road projects. Until voters make it otherwise, don't expect much from the legislature.


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BACK! BACK UNDER THE BRIDGE! We'll feed you some goats later!

Don't make us get the spears!

Biking vs taking the T

That depends on the distance involved.

Riding from Davis Square to Harvard or Kendall? Sure, the bike is faster. The bike also usually wins for a crosstown trip such as Davis Square to BU or Fenway Park or the MFA.

But not if you're going to Fields Corner or Quincy, and certainly not if your trip involves the commuter rail. I've biked from Somerville to Lowell, and no way is that faster than taking the train.

Why not charge for distance

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Why not charge for distance traveled? For instance, I often travel from Broadway to MGH... but I'm paying the same as riders who get on at Braintree and off at MGH.

These captchas are tough.

It's nice in principle

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But how do you propose to implement it? Keep in mind that you have to accommodate riders on the Green Line and the Silver Line, who may disembark at surface stations.

The way it is done for BART (and other such systems) is to require everyone to pass through exit fare-gates with their ticket. If you do not have enough money on the ticket you must go to a machine inside the restricted area and fill it. This obviously won't work for the Green and Silver Lines, not to mention the extensive and expensive retrofitting of all of the subway stations in the system.

Alternatively, you could use some kind of zone system that requires people to pay up-front (like the CR). However, zone systems are either overly simplistic and cause wacky disparities in pricing (like the CR), or they are too complex and make it difficult for people to compute their cost in advance. Not to mention the problem of enforcement.

In fact, the marginal cost of a person riding the subway is extremely small, even if they ride twice as far as someone else. The train is going to run, with or without that person. It's better to think of your fare as a contribution to the upkeep of the entire system rather than recouping the cost of that specific trip. What makes mass transit useful is the frequency of service and the connections. Nobody can take advantage of every single train that passes, but the fact that they are running frequently makes it possible for the service to be usable in the first place.

Is it possible to use a

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Is it possible to use a transponder type "Charlie" card for collecting fares? Riders would connect a bank account (or an account with the T) to their transponder card. Just as with the turnpike the account would be debited for the ride as riders passed under the detection mechanism... no neeed for turnstyles would speed up getting in and out of cars and stations


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Did you mean replacing the fare-gates with transponder detectors? That doesn't really change the problem, just makes fare-gates less annoying. Or did you mean transponders in the tunnel? But would it work so well with a bunch of people in a steel car?

Still not sure how it deals with surface routes. Sounds like a zone-based system, which has its own issues. And we haven't yet reached the point where we're willing to force everyone to buy a CharlieCard, much less a transponder.

Taxes, Fares, and Fair Rules

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Firstly, I agree that gas taxes and tolls should not be applied to any of the mass transit systems, including the MBTA. However I also feel that the rules of where the monies collected from them go should be clear and explicit: road infrastructure. I'd love some transparency on where these funds actually go, to confirm that they are indeed being applied where they should be. If the state road infrastructure needs work, then raise the gas tax and/or tolls and charge the people using it. If you raise it enough, people are going to turn to public transit, so you better have it ready and working correctly and efficiently when they do.

Here's a good place to start on Commonwealth Transportation Fund:

Secondly, I think fare increases are inevitable, the only solution to the MBTA financial issues. However before the fares are increased I want to see rules applied to where these fares collected go. To me there are obviously two it should be considered first: equipment, infrastructure and the salaries and nominal benefits for the working people of the MBTA. (engineers, conductors, mechanics, police, drivers, etc.)
I don't think that paying for peak times is a good idea because more than likely a majority of the customers work a "9 to 5" so a majority is then going to be paying for the system. Besides, I think it makes fare collection more complex, which could cause inefficiencies.
I do think a pay-for-what-you-use, or Point to Point (P2P), payment system is a good idea but you need to put a good plan in place to manage it.
The Commuter Rail service already implements a form of zone pricing and there are no gateways measuring what you use. I assume fare collection works well on this type of travel because the typical time between stops ensures that a conductor can collect the fare between when you get on and get off.
To apply this same principal to all services of the MBTA, expecially ones with shorter legs between stops, would be a challenge but not impossible. In Darmstadt, Germany you buy a ticket before you get on for transit service from where you get on to where you will get off. No one collects anything when you get on; you just walk on with your ticket in your pocket. What prevents people from abusing the system is that there is a chance that a plainclothes officer can walk up and ask to see your ticket. If you're in violation, you're fined. If you're not, go on about your travels. By the way, an additional benefit here is that the driver is focused his job: driving.

Thirdly, as for service cuts, I don't think it is inevitable but I think service needs to be more efficient across all types. Rail is impossible to move, and extending it is limited, so start there to draw the lines of service. Next adjust your bus branches to be more effective for servicing an area and working with rail services, not competing with them. Consider bus routes that serve an area devoid of rail either in loops starting and ending at rail stations or connectors from a station on one line to another station on a different line.
I would also recommend considering a more efficient use of service personnel. On the commuter rail, more conductors on peak times and less during off times would increase efficiencies with loading and unloading passengers while making fare collection more accurate. The peak trains have the longest stops because of all the people getting on or off them.

Finally, the MBTA really needs to look internally at their processes and procedures and make them more efficient. Although initially it would most likely air some dirty laundry, transparency would be benficial in the long term, especially with costs and efficiencies.