MBTA backtracks on $3 commuter rail surcharge

Until today, the MBTA's website announced that, effective July 1, there would be a $3 surcharge for any commuter rail ticket bought on the train -- even if you board at a station such as Belmont or Gloucester, which has no ticket machines and no store anywhere nearby that sells tickets.

Outlying commuter train passengers railed against the new surcharge.

Today, the T has apparently changed the policy again. The website now says:

A $3 surcharge will be added to tickets purchased on-board all trains departing from North, South and Back Bay Stations.

*Monday through Friday customers will be charged $3 surcharge by the conductor when a ticket is purchased on board from a station with a MBTA ticket vending machine or where a Ticket Vendor is open.

Left unclear is how close to a station a ticket vendor needs to be in order for the surcharge to apply.

The only news story I've found so far is in the Herald-News of Fall River, a city that doesn't even have MBTA service.

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"Some people expressed

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"Some people expressed concern with the two-tier system that had been proposed," MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an email this morning.

No, Joe, it was not the system that had been proposed. This was the new scheme that was to be implemented in two days. The T would have been the only commuter rail agency of which I am aware to penalize riders who had no way to pre-buy their ticket. (SEPTA offers a credited return ticket.)

It was only through repeated outrage in the media and on Twitter did the T reverse course.

Will the timetables be reprinted to reflect the new fares?

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The fare increase "timetable" already reflects this

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I picked up an MBTA fare increase notice last week. It's printed in the shape and style of a timetable. It says the $3 extra onboard fare would be collected when tickets were available at the station or a neighborhood vendor. So at least according to that information, this decision was already made a while ago.

It's good news. People's commuter rail trips begin at home, not in the stations with the machines, and not everybody uses the train every day, or even every week. The MBTA has tried too hard to balance the budget on the backs of commuter rail riders.

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Well that makes the T look

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Well that makes the T look even worse: does the left hand not know what the right hand is doing?

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Half the battle

This was only half of the complaints. Tickets sold now are only valid for 2 weeks after purchase. The used to be valid for 6 months, so you could buy a few extra and have time to use them.

Now if you buy a round trip, and a friend gives you a ride instead for one of the directions, you only have two weeks to travel again or you're out the money anyway. So the 2 week policy is doing to discourage all we occasional riders form ever buying round trip tickets - and thus hitting us with the $3 fee when we return from a ticketless station.

While the changed $3 surcharge policy is a great step, we need to go back to tickets being valid for more than 2 weeks...

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The rationale for the 14-day

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The rationale for the 14-day expiration was to make up for conductors not always getting to all passengers. So even if you have bought your ticket before boarding, you have less chance to re-use it if the conductor never gets to you.

Of course, if the validity had remained at 180 days, more occasional riders would have already had a ticket before boarding at an outlying stop, which means fewer lengthy cash transactions by conductors, which means a greater chance that all passengers will have their ticket collected.

You gotta love the T's reasoning: "We can't figure out a way to implement electronic payment [we'll see about the mobile payments in the fall], so let's inconvenience our customers."

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They justified the short

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They justified the short expiration by comparing it with other U.S. commuter railroads.

In other words, it's a the race to the bottom with regard to passenger-unfriendly policies.

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I honestly don't understand how effing hard it is . . .

To have machines at all platforms either. I remember the first time I got on Metro-North at the nondescript Woodlawn Station in the Bronx and saw no less than three (3) ticket vending machines, dispensing everything from MetroCards to Commuter Rail tickets, right there on the platform, let alone three more on the Outbound platform! And this was back in 2005.

Why I find especially laughable is that even at the big terminal station in Worcester, the one (1) ticket vending machine has been out of order for the last year and half and you have to buy tickets onboard--I think that says it all.

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The T has apparently decided they just don't want to

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put ticket machines at the outlying stations at all. Never mind the fact it would solve a large number of the issues with fare colection on commuter trains they are complaining about.

Kind of like restoring light rail to the Arborway - the option just will not be considered, no matter how much sense it makes.

This is yet another reason why I wish we had some investigative reporters in Boston who were actually willing to question the T's various actiona and inactions. There are so many holes in nearly any argument MBTA management gives in support of their decisions.

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Changing the expiration still doesn't increase collection

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I had a ticket I ended up not using (got a ride) when I planned. Next time I took the commuter rail I used it, even though the ticket had expired. The conductor took it anyway.

When the expiration was 180 days, I would buy two tickets at once, knowing I would use them within the expiration. Now I only buy them one at a time, thus doubling the transaction cost for the T.

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Theory and actual practice by

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Theory and actual practice by conductors are two different animals.

And now (see below posts) tickets will be valid for 90 days, and conductors are instructed to accept tickets up to 90 days past their issue date. Of course that issue date is printed in tiny type at the bottom, and conductors will now have to do math after finding that date.

Utter incompetence at the top ranks of the T. Why even go through the expense and motions of public hearings when T management can just change the fares on a whim, even two days before they are due to change?

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Actually, the T's reasoning seems to be

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"We just plain don't want to be bothered with implementing electronic payment on commuter stations - or even putting ticket machines at outlying stations."

The MBTA - Driven by Customer Service, unless we decide it's too expensive.

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Twelve Ride Tickets

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Also, the twelve ride tickets are now only good for a month. They used to be good for six months. I only ride the commuter rail on occasion, and used to buy the 12 ride tickets for convenience's sake, even though they cost the same as 12 one-way tickets. Now I will just buy the one-ways.

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It seems they changed this one too

From the same link Ron posted:

Effective July 1, 2012, Commuter Rail tickets will have the following expiration periods:

  • All 10 and 12-ride tickets will be sold with an expiration time limit of 90 days.
  • Single ride tickets will be sold with an expiration time of 90 days.
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I bought 2 single ride

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I bought 2 single ride commuter rail tickets from the kiosk inside Government Center Station. They expire on July 12 - in two weeks. So the quick expiration has been implemented. I'm wondering if these short explorations are always temporary and have just been in effect to keep people from stocking up on the cheaper fares before July 1.

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but...

it is not yet July 1st. Buy one next week and see what it says.

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Yep, 2 weeks

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Yeah, any tickets bought in the last ~2 weeks have 14-day expiration windows. Big signs went up all over North Station announcing it, and then quietly disappeared a couple of days ago, and new tickets have 90-day expiration dates. They might take the 14-day ones for extra time, but I'm not sure.

I get that they're trying to react to rider complaints, but man, the last two weeks have made the T look like they have no business running anything.

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Clueless at the T

Funny the way the T thinks. You say "Big signs went up all over North Station announcing it". The trouble is many people buy their tickets downstairs when they get off the green/orange line (or red line @ S Station) - where there were NO signs about 14 days, and the spiffy ticket machines didn't give any warning screen about the 14 day changes. So if you bought your tickets anywhere else, you were pretty much in the dark about the 14 day expiration until you actually bought your ticket - and by then it was too late...

(The fact that there are only 2 ticket machines in the commuter rail area is another flub by the T...)

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According to this note from

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According to this note from MBCR, tickets that show a 14-day validity will still be honored for 90 days.

Until fare equipment can be updated, conductors will be instructed to honor all 12- ride, 10- Ride and single ride tickets for 90 days from the printed purchase date.

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From the horses mouth

Yah, just got an email from them myself

To All of our Commuter Rail Customers:

1. MBCR would like to take this opportunity to inform you that the MBTA has amended its earlier decision on ticket validity dates. 10-Ride and single ride tickets will now be valid for 90 days from the date of purchase. Until fare equipment can be updated, conductors will be instructed to honor all 12- ride, 10- Ride and single ride tickets for 90 days from the printed purchase date.

2. Fare pricing will be structured as follows:

· All tickets purchased at a vendor or machine prior to boarding will be $3.00 less than tickets purchased on-board where a machine or vendor is available.

· Tickets purchased on-board all trains departing from North, South and Back Bay Stations will be charged at the higher on-board price. At these terminal stations ticket sales are available during all service hours. Passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets before boarding trains.

· MBTA Commuter Rail tickets are available for pre-purchase at a select number of locations outside of Boston. A list of these locations can be found on the MBTA website: http://www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/sales_locations

· One Way Single Rides for Zone 9 and Zone 10 will be charged at the lower One Way Fare at all times

3. Fare pricing for all modes can be found on the following link on the MBTA’s website: http://www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/charlie/?id=2...

In closing, we wish to remind you that fare and schedule changes will take effect on Sunday July 1st. Please log on to either the MBTA or MBCR websites for details and look for the listing that reads “effective July 1, 2012”. www.mbcr.net or www.mbta.com

Thank you as always for riding the commuter rail.

Customer Service
Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail

Operating the Commuter Rail on behalf of the MBTA

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fare and schedule changes - some take effect July 7

fare and schedule changes will take effect on Sunday July 1st.

except that they are still going to run Greenbush and Kingston trains on July 1, and will run both of those and also Needham trains on July 4 (Saturday schedule). The weekend cutbacks take effect July 7.

This seems to be another last-minute change that hasn't been clearly communicated to the riding public.

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And then when hardly anyone

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And then when hardly anyone actually rides those trains that were added back at the last minute, T management can say, "well, this is why we cancelled weekend service on these lines."

Brilliant if you ask me.

The T has shown itself to be utterly incompetent the past week (well, maybe longer than that) in communicating major changes with its riders.

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"And then when hardly anyone

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"And then when hardly anyone actually rides those trains that were added back at the last minute, T management can say, 'well, this is why we cancelled weekend service on these lines.'"

I usually agree with your commuter rail posts, but I think this is unreasonable speculation on your part.

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I am not saying there is some

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I am not saying there is some vast conspiracy. But two months ago we are told that as of July 1, weekend service is being cut on certain lines. And just a week before the scheduled change, we are told that service will run after all for one more weekend day of runs. If the services are so important to keep for this one special weekend, why shouldn't they have been preserved for every weekend? After all, July 4 and New Year's Eve will continue to happen every year. Will these services magically make a reappearance when the commuter rail runs on weekend schedules for other holidays?

Combined with the last-minute commuter rail fare changes, it shows a lack of real leadership at the T. Who in the upper ranks of the T thought they could get away, with impunity, with disenfranchising their occasional riders who don't ride often enough to buy a pass? Did the person or people who made these decisions, thinking it would encourage pre-purchasing and speed up on-board ticket collection, even realize that the vast majority of commuter rail riders have no way to pre-purchase their ticket?

When management decided that the changes would go in effect July -- "a nice round date" -- did they even consider that it was the weekend of July 4, when many riders might want to come into town?

It shows a true disconnect between the financial motivations of those making the decisions and the passengers actually on the ground riding the rails.

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I think the July 1 date was

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I think the July 1 date was selected not because the date was round or otherwise special, but because it is the beginning of the Commonwealth's fiscal year.

It will be interesting to see what happens when stories of people standing on platforms in 90+ heat on summer weekends waiting for trains that aren't coming start hitting legislators' offices. I think that the news that the cuts were coming has been broadcast widely enough, but you know that there will be people who will say they never heard anything about it (and didn't think to look at a schedule because "I've been riding this train since I was a kid!")

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At least on the transit side,

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At least on the transit side, July 1 was chosen for the service cuts because it's the start of the spring rating (when drivers' schedules change).

Plymouth passengers could wait for a train that will never arrive because http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/Documents/Schedu... incorrectly shows the old April schedule, even though it's supposed to show the July schedule.

The correct schedule is at http://www.mbcr.net/Schedules/Old_Colony_web.pdf .

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As MBTA fares don't go into the general fund,

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your argument about start of the state's fiscal year makes little sense (which actually sounds par for the course for the T)

However, fare increases normally start at the first of the month because of monthly passes. Which could have been a great marketing opportunity for the T. Imagine if the T said "Fares are going up on July 9th - but the cost of passes won't increase until August. You can avoid the fare increase for another month if you buy a July pass.

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The MBTA's fiscal year

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Also begins July 1st.

I don't know why this is a question. From the beginning, they always said they were trying to close a gap for the next Fiscal Year.

All changes were always intended to take place for the next Fiscal Year. Read the documents.

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Come on, roadman - You're kidding, right?

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You know at least as well as (and probably better than) everyone else that the T gets a huge amount of its funding from sources controlled by the Commonwealth (e.g., the sales tax revenue, the $50 M from the vehicle inspection program) and for that, amongst other reasons (e.g. it's debt service commitments, etc.), the Commonwealth keeps the T on the same fiscal schedule.

It cannot be that monthly passes beginning on the first of the month drove the July 1 date. If that were the case, they could have picked August 1 (perhaps lowest ridership month), December 1, January 1 or any other 1st, rather than, as others have pointed out, picking a day 3 days before one of the most popular T riding days of the year. Even the T could not be that shortsighted.

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We can argue all we want

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We can argue all we want about why July 1 was chosen.

I don't think anyone can argue that when the service changes were first announced months ago, that no one knew that July 1 was a Sunday and that a major holiday was three days later, a holiday that sees very high T ridership.

Unless no one can do math at the T and no one has a calendar. Possible.

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And, with respect, the fact the T

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gets a bunch of funding from the Commonwealth is of no relevance whatsoever to choosing the date the T chooses to raise fares.

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They may have been big signs

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but they had LOTS of print on them. People tend not to read signs that appear excessively wordy or complex, even if they're standing right in front of them.

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90 day expiration to be reinstated

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Got this earlier from MBCR:

To All of our Commuter Rail Customers:
1. MBCR would like to take this opportunity to inform you that the MBTA has amended its earlier decision on ticket validity dates. 10-Ride and single ride tickets will now be valid for 90 days from the date of purchase. Until fare equipment can be updated, conductors will be instructed to honor all 12- ride, 10- Ride and single ride tickets for 90 days from the printed purchase date.
2. Fare pricing will be structured as follows:
• All tickets purchased at a vendor or machine prior to boarding will be $3.00 less than tickets purchased on-board where a machine or vendor is available.
• Tickets purchased on-board all trains departing from North, South and Back Bay Stations will be charged at the higher on-board price. At these terminal stations ticket sales are available during all service hours. Passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets before boarding trains.
• MBTA Commuter Rail tickets are available for pre-purchase at a select number of locations outside of Boston. A list of these locations can be found on the MBTA website: http://www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/sales_locations
• One Way Single Rides for Zone 9 and Zone 10 will be charged at the lower One Way Fare at all times
3. Fare pricing for all modes can be found on the following link on the MBTA’s website: http://www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/charlie/?id=2...
In closing, we wish to remind you that fare and schedule changes will take effect on Sunday July 1st. Please log on to either the MBTA or MBCR websites for details and look for the listing that reads “effective July 1, 2012”. www.mbcr.net or www.mbta.com
Thank you as always for riding the commuter rail.
Customer Service
Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail

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90 day expiration to be reinstated

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Got this earlier from MBCR:

To All of our Commuter Rail Customers:
1. MBCR would like to take this opportunity to inform you that the MBTA has amended its earlier decision on ticket validity dates. 10-Ride and single ride tickets will now be valid for 90 days from the date of purchase. Until fare equipment can be updated, conductors will be instructed to honor all 12- ride, 10- Ride and single ride tickets for 90 days from the printed purchase date.
2. Fare pricing will be structured as follows:
• All tickets purchased at a vendor or machine prior to boarding will be $3.00 less than tickets purchased on-board where a machine or vendor is available.
• Tickets purchased on-board all trains departing from North, South and Back Bay Stations will be charged at the higher on-board price. At these terminal stations ticket sales are available during all service hours. Passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets before boarding trains.
• MBTA Commuter Rail tickets are available for pre-purchase at a select number of locations outside of Boston. A list of these locations can be found on the MBTA website: http://www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/sales_locations
• One Way Single Rides for Zone 9 and Zone 10 will be charged at the lower One Way Fare at all times
3. Fare pricing for all modes can be found on the following link on the MBTA’s website: http://www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/charlie/?id=2...
In closing, we wish to remind you that fare and schedule changes will take effect on Sunday July 1st. Please log on to either the MBTA or MBCR websites for details and look for the listing that reads “effective July 1, 2012”. www.mbcr.net or www.mbta.com
Thank you as always for riding the commuter rail.
Customer Service
Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail

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massive commuter rail fair hike between zone 1A and 1

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How the hell does the MBTA justify a commuter rail fare jump of $103 [!] between zone 1A and zone 1?! Take the Readville/Fairmont Line for example: Morton Street Mattapan is 1A, the next stop Fairmont Ave Hyde Park [which is about maybe 2 miles] is 1. Folks getting on @ Fairmont pay $173. a month, folks getting on 2 miles down the road pay $70. a month. Nothing inside Boston city limits should be zoned higher than a 1A.

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Zone 1A

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Basically means "you were SUPPOSED to have light rail or subway, but ... here's a discount on less frequent, sometimes too full to stop commuter rail instead". 1A is the same cost as a Rail/Bus pass because the 1A stations are the same distance from downtown. You just get the printed out plastic card instead.

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CONTINUED: Roslindale,West Roxbury

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And to add:

Forest Hills is a zone 1A and of course the orange line. The orange line should have been extended to Hyde Park, probably Readville, maybe even 128. Because it hasn't, people in Hyde Park get shafted in regards to MBTA service, with only a few local buses connected to Forest Hills and 3 commuter rail stops. The Hyde Park/Cleary Square stop is also a zone 1. So, like Morton st Mattapan, and Fairmont Ave H.P, someone getting on the commuter train at Forest Hills pays $103. LESS per month vs someone getting on at Hyde Park/Cleary Sq. This is obscene. Compare this situation with Newton; Newton has the option of getting to downtown Boston by express bus [on a real highway, not a main street with lights and crawling traffic], the green line 'D' LRV train, with it's own right of way, and numerous commuter rail stops. People living in Newton, a fairly well off city and suburb of Boston, get superior and less expensive public transportation into Boston than a working class Boston neighborhood. Is this fair? Where is the mayor who lives in H.P. about all this?

Ditto Roslindale and West Roxbury. Subway service hasn't been extended to them, and there's no express bus option to downtown, only numerous slow 'local' buses that end in Forest Hills, and 4 commuter rail stops on the Needham Line. But Roslindale and West Roxbury commuter rail stops are also zone as 1. Seriously, commuters in H.P, Roslindale, West Roxbury get screwed.

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Yes, there's a big jump

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Yes, there's a big jump between Zone 1A and 1 fares.

You could interpret it as Zone 1 being too expensive. But you could also think of it as 1A being too cheap.

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Or perhaps a bit of both

I don't mind paying more for zone 1. Most zone 1 stations are in areas where bus to subway is a valid option. Commuter rail is faster and more comfortable and therefore worth more. But I don't think it's worth 175% more. Zone 1 should be something like $3.00 or $3.25, not $5.50 when it's very often no more than a mile or two down the tracks from a zone 1A station.

Interesting side note regarding the $3 surcharge. Yesterday morning I witnessed a conductor refusing to sell a round trip ticket because he would have to add $3 for the return portion, even though the point of purchase was at a surcharge free location. To his credit, he explained this to the passenger and directed her to use a machine once she reached downtown. I was a bit surprised, though, because nobody ever added a surcharge to round trip tickets in the past. Seems the policy is sort of still there, just not completely.

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Your anecdote just confirms

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Your anecdote just confirms suspicions that the whole point of the $3 surcharge was never to speed up ticket collection by encouraging pre-purchasing, but was purely a revenue generator. If the conductor is already forced to sell a fare on-board because the passenger's starting station had no ticket machine, then where is the extra time to sell a round-trip vs. a one-way? So instead, inconvenience the rider by making her have to seek out her return ticket after getting off the train.

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Increase bike parking at West Medford?

People already bike to West Medford from Winchester and either park their bike or bring a folding bike on the train (a popular option with Fort Point/Seaport District commuters).

I hope they are going to put in more rack space for this. You could buy a $500 bike or folding bike and ride May-September to pay it off.

On the flip side, I live .9 miles from West Medford, and 2.1 miles from Wedgemere. Back when I was in graduate school and heading to Lowell several times a week, I would use Wedgemere Station because it was $1.50 cheaper each way to Lowell.

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Orange Line was originally

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Orange Line was originally planned to continue to Needham Heights but community oppositon force the T to make it a commuter rail line instead.

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