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State to reevaluate commuter-rail fares at close-in stations

All the recent Twitter hubbub about fares at the new Brighton commuter-rail station got state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack to thinking: Could there be other stations near downtown that have unfair fares?

Charlie Ticotsky attended today's meeting of the T's Fiscal and Management Control Board, reports:

Secretary Pollack says that Twitter reaction flagged the Boston Landing Zone 1/1A issue. Says MBTA will undertake a Commuter Rail zone review.

It will especially look at stations 5-10 miles from terminus, where there is inconsistency. Review to be done by end of year.

The whole zone inequity thing has become an issue in the southern section of Boston, where Fairmount Line riders pay $2.25 per ride - except at Readville, where the fare is $6.75 - and Roslindale and West Roxbury riders have to pay $6.25 per ride.

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Comments

Finally, I've been bitching about this for YEARS. Although im not going to count my chickens before they hatch.

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Sincerely,

One of the earliest Boston Landing Twitter complainants

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The way that commuters pay for public transportation throughout the MBTA/MBCR needs to be completely overhauled, and everybody knows it. It seems like politicians are at least being nudged out of their midday nap when it comes to sleeping on the MBTA's fiscal policy, but... the trains are still broken. The new ones aren't coming anytime soon. The Green Line isn't growing anywhere. If anything, the MBTA is regressing in their level of growth compared to postwar development. The new stations they're building don't have any rhyme or reason for their fare rates!

The elephant in the room about the MBTA is that nobody wants to open Pandora's Box when it comes to local politics and public transportation. Is it because nobody knows how to deal with a pseudo-public company? That nobody wants to come out and say how debilitating all of the unions are on MBTA's going concerns? That a top-down purge of executives is a necessity for a new, efficient, reliable company to get us where we need to go? That when we finally see new development, it's far and beyond how much we need it and how much we can afford it?

I feel like anybody looking for something affordable in Boston is being squeezed out by luxury apartment development, doubled down by any reasonable way to pay for rail service to get to work. The fare schedule is just the tip of the iceberg here.

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The MBCR has been out of the picture for years. MBCR lost the contract. The CR is now run by Keolis.

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Are failing, or outdated. It's not specific to Boston and Mass. America's infrastructure in general is poor.

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Because we have to pay the full fare and the MBTA ignores the thousands of fare cheats who ride the system for free every day.

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I have pitched this before and I'll pitch it again:

MBTA Commuter Rail Fare Zone Restructuring In Three Easy Steps!

STEP #1: Note that Braintree Station is 11.82 track miles from Park Street via the Red Line.

STEP #2: Use that distance (plus or minus a furlong) to define a new Zone 1A.

STEP #3: Modify the InterZone fare structure to include non-terminal Zone 1A stations.

The MBTA makes those changes and then we get these awesome benefits:

- People living in places without rapid transit (i.e. Roslindale, Lynn, et alia) now have a faster, cheaper transit option.

- People in West Roxbury will no longer find themselves waking up in the middle of the night in a jealous rage on account of all the "perks" the Fairmount Line gets.

- Any fare loss due to reduced zone fares is made up by more people being able to ride...

- Which could possibly lead to **gasp** all the cars of a given train being open and occupied!

- AT ALL TIMES?!?!?! #OMG! #RealRegionalRail #Hashtag

- Let's be real, the negligible (and likely temporary) loss in fare revenue is nothing compared to the capital and operations costs of extending the Orange Line to Roslindale, West Roxbury and Hyde Park; and the Blue Line to Lynn.

- People who have been de facto InterZone riders no longer are getting shafted. Would it not be better to ride betwixt Chelsea and Lynn in 10 minutes for $3.50 each way (new structure) versus $6.75 (at present)?

CONS:

- If you are trying to find something so wrong about this that would make the above pros just not worth it... Well a) great to see that trolls get such great wi-fi under the B.U. Bridge! b) Seriously!?!

Well, that's the gist of what I'll be including in my email to Stephanie tomorrow morning.

/END RANT/

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Your plan is nice and fair, so I applaud it.

The only con is that ridership will go up exponentially at the new 1A stops, which those who get on at them now will notice and gripe about.

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There's no way the fine folks of West Roxbury who get enraged about stuff like this don't have many other back-up things to be outraged about. Such as how replacing a burned out inhaler factory with new housing will be worse for the neighborhood.

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- Let's be real, the negligible (and likely temporary) loss in fare revenue is nothing compared to the capital and operations costs of extending the Orange Line to Roslindale, West Roxbury and Hyde Park; and the Blue Line to Lynn.

Holy crap never looked at it that way, totally worth it and incentivises not driving into the city

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Stop using heavy rail to do the job that light rail should be doing.

GLX, OLX, BLX ... that.

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is more light rail. We need heavy rail extensions. The exception is the green line through East Cambridge and Somerville which they will be lucky to finally get built, although a heavy rail line there would be better. The population density and ridership is certainly there.

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Scrap the GLX and just put a commuter rail platform at Ball Square.

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1 out of 3. BL and OL are heavy rail.

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But Commuter Rail != Light Rail. We need to get the terms straight, probably, too.

Light Rail is the Green Line. Properly planned, where a light rail train doesn't sit at a red light while three cars take a left, it can move a lot of people. Calgary gets more people on surface light rail downtown than the Green Line carries underground (in the Green Line's defense, it was built a century earlier). Heavy rail (Red/Blue/Orange) can generally carry more people than light rail, but is less flexible: it's a lot easier, say, to have a grade crossing with light rail than heavy. And stations are cheaper and easier to build, too.

But Commuter Rail, or Regional Rail, can also carry a lot of people, if you let it. It's a big investment, but there's no reason the Worcester or Providence or Lowell Line shouldn't run every 10 minutes. So there are nomenclature issues, and operational issues, but the long and short of it is that except for the terminals, the Commuter/Regional rail system has a lot more potential for growth than the light and heavy rail systems.

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But Commuter Rail != Light Rail. We need to get the terms straight, probably, too.

I think that was the point maybe?

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vs Calgary. Cities in North America where light rail works fairly well also tend to have much lower population densities vs Boston area. They also are laid out in classic grid patterns, unlike Boston, which is like an old world city built up hodge podge over almost 400 years. Boston also has complex geographical and topographic boundaries and limitations that, with the exception of a small handful, most major US and Canadian cities don't have.

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The commuter rail fare can be fixed tomorrow. The GLX is years away, and the others aren't even approved yet.

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Here's my idea: price all fares around 30c/mile, with a $2.25 minimum. Then the 1A/1 boundary won't matter at all.

It's obscene that some fares are upwards of 60c/mile, while the IRS mileage rate for driving your own car is only 53.5c/mile.

Yes, the commuter rail has high subsidies. But it's not the fault of the passengers that the T hasn't made changes to run it more efficiently.

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Per mile, Commuter Rail has the same subsidy as rapid transit, and quite a bit less of a subsidy than buses. More subsidy for longer-distance commuters, of course, who pay lower fares.

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Yup, zones are arbitrary and there are winners and losers. Per mile is fair.

The way it works is that you buy your monthly pass based on origin and destination. Any rides that are shorter/cheaper are included.

You can charge a base fare for suburban stations and a downtown boston surcharge.

For single ticket riders, the fare machines are simply sorted by station name, rather than zone. Thats actually better for the customer. Im a casual rider (Celtics fan). I know Im going to Winchester. WTF knows what zone that is? But it is under W for Winchester.

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With one exception, they are mileage based.

Now, the fairness of the rates is another story, but they are not arbitrary.

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If the stations in question that are zone 1 due to distance get fare drops, there will be much complaining from Belmont and Winchester to lower their fares, too. Those three stations are considerably closer to their terminus than Readville or Fairmont.

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Says the commenter who has no clue.

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I don't mind keeping zones, as long as the fares are about 30c/mile. That would prevent massive jumps at fare zones like the current 1A/1 mess.

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If I want to go outbound starting at a station a few miles away from Boston, it makes a big difference which station I start at.

If I'm going to Lowell, I could get on at West Medford for $10 ... or I could bike a couple miles north to Wedgmere and pay only $5.

A trip from Porter Square to Ayer costs $11.50. If I start in Belmont instead, it costs only $6.

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If I bike to North Station to get a ride to Newburyport it costs twice as much as it would to ride to Lynn (3 miles further).

When I was a student at UMass Lowell, I'd ride to and from Wedgemere (1.7 miles - 10 minutes) rather than West Medford (1.1 miles, 8 minutes) and save eight bucks per round trip.

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1 mile apart, maybe less, and it goes from zone1A $2.25 to zone 2 $6.75! Needless to say, one or two people get on at Readville in the AM, while there's a shit load waiting at Fairmount. Other than that it's a good line and very convenient.

IMO all commuter rail lines within Boston city limits should be 1A like a subway ride, including all the stops in West Roxbury, Roslindale and Hyde Park Cleary Sq.

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IMO all commuter rail lines within Boston city limits should be 1A like a subway ride

I couldn't agree more. The fact that people in Braintree, Quincy, Malden, Cambridge, Somerville, Revere, Brookline, and Newton get to ride to downtown Boston for the price of a subway fare, but people within Boston city limits do not, is a huge problem.

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for the price of a subway fare

They are riding the subway. The folk who get on the T in Newtonville, West Newton, and Auburndale in Newton pay Zone 1 for the first station and Zone 2 for the other two stations.

You do know why it is called the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, right?

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The fare structure is based on distance, not unit of geography.

Ditto the system - the M stands for MASSACHUSETTS and the B for BAY It isn't MY BOSTON TA.

As I've said before, these places are closer to City Hall than the outer neighborhoods of Boston. If you live as far out as Winchester or Woburn, expect to pay the freight.

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But why do people think they should get a lower fare because they live within Boston City limits? The T is not a Boston only thing. Please do better than "It's not fair."

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Keeping the bizarre and arbitrary 1A/1 price jump but pushing it outward to the city line doesn't solve the problem.

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We did it UHub!

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Any update to this? I can't find any documents on the MBTA site, but of course that doesn't mean anything either way...

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