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Charlie-less T payment starts Aug. 1

The MBTA announced today its long-awaited next-gen fare system - years late and now approaching $1 billion to install - begins Aug. 1 when T subway, trolley and bus riders will be able to board with a credit card, phone or even watch rather than having to have a CharlieCard in hand.

A one-step option for pay-as-you-go travel, riders can save time by using their contactless credit/debit card, phone, or watch instead of purchasing and reloading a CharlieCard. Riders can look for the contactless symbol, tap their card or device on the reader at the fare gate or the reader at the vehicle door, wait for the green checkmark, then ride. ...

Riders in reduced fare programs (such as Senior, Student, and TAP) will have the option to link their benefits to their contactless card, phone, or watch. Riders who do not want to link their benefits to a contactless card, phone, or watch will be able to continue using their current payment method.

The new payment system will be available at subway fare gates and aboard buses and Green and Mattapan Line trolleys. People who like CharlieCards will still be able to use them, but they'll have to tap the old-fashioned card readers, not the newfangled ones.

The T does have a caveat for bus and trolley riders:

While onboard buses, Green Line trolleys, and Mattapan Line trolleys, riders should be mindful of the location of the tappable fare readers near the vehicles’ doors. To avoid the possibility of accidental taps and charges of their contactless credit or debit cards, riders are encouraged to hold their purses, bags, and backpacks away from the contactless readers.

The T's ultimate goal is to create a fare system that includes even commuter-rail lines.

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Comments

From the Globe:

The T is in the process of hiring 16 fare engagement officers who will start interacting with riders of buses and the Green Line by early winter, the agency said previously. Later, the officers will begin writing tickets for people who have not paid fares. The citations will start with a written warning, then escalate to $50 for the second, third, and fourth offenses, then $100 for the fifth and any subsequent offenses within a three-year period.

Unless that is inaccurate, there won't be any enforcement starting Aug 1st so the above-ground system will be fare-optional. Once they hire inspectors, it will still be a while before they actually fine anyone for lack of payment. I haven't seen any enforcement on the GLX branch since it opened but I also don't ride it often.

16 fare agents for the whole system would make it unlikely most people will encounter an officer frequently, especially on busses.

And there's still the huge question of biases. No matter how well the agents are trained, there's going to be questions about where they are sent and who gets ticketed.

The total amount the T owes for the system will shrink from $967 million to $926 million, the agency said Thursday, thanks to a recent restructuring of the contract to account for delays.

So the project is only $226 million over budget and six years late and not $267. Nice!

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Depends on implementation. I was on a PoP system, and when enforcement got on board they just made everyone prove they had paid, so no bias. But they also did not have the rush hour crowds that we do.

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“You should keep using your typical payment method if you:
Pay for transit using cash
Use a weekly or monthly pass
Ride the Commuter Rail or ferry
Receive a pass from your employer or school”

So EVERYONE who gets a T pass from work, and all BPS students in 7th grade and up, and everyone who uses the commuter rail regularly, all have to keep using the Charlie cards? And won’t be able to board via the back door of buses either, presumably, because you can’t tap a pass on the new readers. So nice, this is great for tourists, but seems really pointless for a heck of a lot of locals.

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This is great for those of us who live near surface level T stops that don't have fare machines. Definitely shouldn't have cost a billion dollars but hey, I'm glad its here

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In this case, spend a lot of money to make a little.

One idea would have been to declare bus routes "pay at exit" where most people are transferring to rapid transit anyway (something like 5% of the T's fares come from bus-only trips, or about $30 million per year pre-pandemic, probably more like $25 million now). Maybe even put in some fare gates at transfer points where there are already fare machines. That might bring the "losses" into the $20 million range.

(This project is more complex, and might wind up with a reasonable Commuter Rail payment system, maybe one with free transfers because if you spend $12 on a Commuter Rail ticket you ought to be able to ride a bus of subway for free, although conductors now accepting credit cards helps if not in this last regard. Anyway, this is a combination of the T being bad at spec'ing projects, design by committee, contractors taking the T for a ride and only a few buy-American contractors out to bid which can demand high prices. Hooray!)

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They have yet to install the readers on the back doors of buses, only the front. The Green Line has the readers at every door.

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I can’t think of a bus I’ve taken in the past 6 months that didn’t have a reader at the back door.

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"If you have a Senior/TAP/Student CharlieCard".

All the other forms of payment are incompatible with them. You still can't purchase the monthly
pass online with these cards, so how do you think they will implement this into the new system? Answer: They won't.

Ableist organization

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Yeah, I had the same thought. In NY they took care of this with fare caps: as long as you use the same card to tap all the time, it will stop charging you once you hit the price of an equivalent pass, so rather than buy a monthly, you just tap and it charges you until you hit $90 in charges for the month and functions as a pass after that.

I wonder if there are any plans to implement fare caps on the MBTA system to simplify in the long run?

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Land in O'Hare, spend $5 for the L, and you ride free the next 24 hours. It's great! (Especially when an Uber from the airport to the Loop is $100!)

One issue we ran into: the wife used her credit card for this (I had a Ventra card) and kept getting $5 charge notifications every time she tapped on a CTA vehicle. Evidently these were all authorizations and at the end of the day they reconcile them to the fare cap, but it wasn't explained particularly well.

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They could easily reduce the issue of not collecting fares on some buses by simply adding lines at the stations. I take the 111 into Haymarket often and it's always pure chaos getting on at Haymarket. It gets so chaotic that they don't bother collecting fares half the time, especially if you want to pay with cash. When it's busy, which is often, a huge number of people just end up not paying. I've had situations where I wanted to pay but didn't because you get swept up.

For decades now I've been asking anyone who would listen to simply set up a line system and a dependable boarding location. So people can line up and simply get on the bus. The chaotic boarding combined with the crowds causes people to be much more chaotic than they should be , causing lost payments because it's a rush to board lest you have to wait for the next bus. Yet even if you wait for the next bus there's no guarantee you can be on it because the front of the line isn't always in the same spot.

I know the 111 is an extreme scenario but it seems to me that the solution would be very cheap and yet they have never even tried. How many other inefficiencies are peppered across the system that could be fixed to help make things less chaotic?

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Sounds doable @Matt Frank! But do you think any of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Board of Directors relatives have the experience to design something like that or will they need outside consultants again? That could get pricey...

Another way for the BU kiddies to ignore paying.

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A billion dollars, plus the debt service, the depreciation, the maintenance, operation, and repairs, for what? To take money from the public’s left pocket (as T riders) instead of taking it from our right pocket (as taxpayers). If we paid for the T out of general revenue, over the lifecycle of the system that’s a cool couple of billion we could spend on, you know, operating trains and buses.

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That's a lot of googly eyes!

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https://www.mbta.com/financials/mbta-budget

For FY 2024, the MBTA budget calls for $418M in fare revenue from all sources against $2.2 in operating costs before debt service, which adds another $517M to the cost of running the system.

Dedicated sales tax revenue alone is almost $1.5B, and state grants and local tax assessments together add another $400M.

We can argue how the T *should* be paid for, but to argue that riders are being gouged on fares is nonsense on stilts.

Even if you magicked away the debt, fare revenue would need to triple to cover even a bare majority of operating costs. Personnel costs (wages, benefits, pensions) are over a billion dollars by themselves.

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I don't think he's saying that riders are getting gouged... he's (correctly) suggesting that there are enormous costs associated with implementing this fare collection system and it would be signficantly more efficient to raise the funds through taxes (maybe a congestion tax?) and just make the T free, not worry about collecting fares, and reinvest the billion dollars it cost to implement this system into upkeep (and even, dare I say, expansion?).

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What you’re suggesting sounds sexy, but show me how to do it with actual numbers.

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It's about the philosophy of how we pay for a public good.

The question is whether we pay for this system with user fees, which has a significant administrative cost associated with it, or simply pay for it with general taxes, where the administrative cost is already baked into the system.

The argument (according to people who support it... not me) for the former is that people who don't use the system don't need to pay for it, so it's more "fair."

The arguments for the second is that it induces use of the system, simplifies the process of revenue raising and removes a significant administrative expense, and is more equitable (because taxes can be structured in a progressive fashion and use fees are inherently regressive: low income people spend a much higher percentage of their income on them).

incidentally, it would also make for a much more pleasant user experience (even aside from cost) as we could have much more open stations without the need for fare gates.

Once you make the philosophical decision that public transportation is a public good that we as a society should invest in, you can raise the revenue needed to do so through the general tax system. Others have done some back of the envelope math in this thread and I'm not going to re-hash that because fundamentally that detail isn't the argument.

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The argument (according to people who support it... not me) for the former is that people who don't use the system don't need to pay for it, so it's more "fair."

I believe the best counter for this argument is to change the language: Instead of talking about who uses the T, let's talk about who benefits from the T.

Every person who has the choice, who decides to leave their car at home and ride the T instead, means for the person who drives, one less car in front of you in traffic, one less competitor for parking, lower motor vehicle accident rates and therefore lower insurance costs, better air quality, etc.

Asking the people who choose to ride the T to shoulder the cost, when it benefits so many others, is bad policy.

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Or live in the city sees very little benefit of the MBTA, but you’re asking them to shoulder the burden with increased taxes. The state already raised an extra $1.8b and is only giving the T $200m. Additionally, the people of the state are already contributing $1.5 billion to the MBTA via sales tax regardless of where they live or if they use it.

I think the city of Boston should impose an extra income tax that is used to fund the MBTA similar to NYC. That’s something I could get behind.

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People who don't live in the Boston metro are always whining about "their tax dollars" going to support services in the city, but the reality is that the wealth in the state is largely concentrated within Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, etc. and there is a net outflow of tax dollars from there to the rest of the state. Which is fine. I care about people in the rest of the state having access to good services and a social safety net despite it not directly benefitting me.

And, yes, I do think that in a society we should all pay pay for public goods that benefit society as a whole. I have no children (and don't intend to ever have any children), but I'm in favor of well funded public schools because, to quote the facade of the Boston Public Library, "The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty."

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Route 128 and I-93 are paid for in part with the tax dollars of people who live in western Massachusetts and never use those roads. Yet no one complains about that.

Why is public transportation any different?

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What’s the MBTA breakdown? 20%? That’s a huge difference.

People who don't ride the MBTA benefit from it. Every person who rides the MBTA is not sitting in a car blocking traffic in front of you, or competing for a parking space, or polluting the air you breathe, or funding the insanity of our Middle East policy, or causing accidents that drive up the costs of health insurance.

Driving is ridiculously subsidized.

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People in Western MA don’t benefit from the MBTA, but are already subsidizing it. They would need to increase this subsidy significantly to make the T free for something they get zero benefit from. Everyone benefits from roads regardless of where you live.

Indirectly, if they don’t ride themselves.

Every time someone chooses public transportation over a private, especially a gas guzzling dangerous vehicle, we all benefit.

I get very little benefit and much harm from the road in front of my residence.

You need to look at the broader picture.

I don't drive but I do ride the T and pay my taxes. Are you telling me that 80% of taxpayers in Massachusetts drive cars @robo? Serious question.

That’s where that number is coming from. Not that 80% of residents drive. So road subsidies in MA are actually pretty low (20%).

This is such an absurd take.

80% of the cost is already paid by taxpayers, and eliminating fares would save $1B now, which covers 5 months of operating expenses, and forfeits at least ~$6 billion in future revenue assuming the system lasts as long as the CharlieCard did. That's a lot of money to wave off.

Looking around, the only place I can find that went fare-free is Luxembourg, which is a tax haven the size of Middlesex County run by a Grand Duke. That basically nobody, including the hundreds of cities that take mass transit more seriously and run it far better than we do ought to give advocates some major pause.

Making the system more pleasant for riders *is* a great objective, not least because more riders equals more operating income since most of the operating costs are fixed. Eliminating fare collection hassle would be number 1,000 on the list of things to do here.

Making the system more reliable, safer, and cleaner would be the top three. At least they hired a competent GM who is doing his best on reliability. He could probably do a lot better if the legislature were willing to back him on real structural reform but there's a lot of well-defended rice bowls at 10 Park Plaza. Revenue ain't the only side of the problem we need to solve.

I'm not opposed to *targeted* low/no-fare initiatives, like free bus routes in low-income areas or subsidized passes for actual low-income workers and residents. I'm not in favor of free rides for college students and commuters from Winchester on their way to the Hubspot offices.

The happy PR announcement that the T seems to think that it is.

All that wasted money for a system that doesn't even work, just like the north station faregate nonsense.

That money could have just been used wisely to make the system mostly fare free, which makes things go much faster in and out of the stations and would reduce other costs as well. Not to mention make access more equitable...

The T is a joke of itself.

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No, not even close. Show me your math that somehow even comes close to making the system fare free.

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If the numbers here are about right, wouldn’t an increase of about 1% in the state’s overall revenue, pretty much cover what the T currently collects in fares.l, with the added benefit of freeing up all the money currently spent on fare collection, to be spent instead on transportation.

As a reminder to those whose eyes glaze over at numbers, a 1% increase wouldn’t raise the 5% tax to 6%, it would raise it to 5.05%. Someone paying 5,000 per year in income taxes now would pay 5,050.

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What about the 18 billion in backlog maintenance? You’re suggesting something that keeps the system in complete disrepair.

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So all of that and if I have a monthly paper pass (Zone 1A), I still have to tap at the front door? Ridiculous.

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Plus whatever it cost to do the accounting involved. It would be more cost effective to stop charging to ride the T at all.

But then somebody’s brother in law would not be getting a sweet deal on a government contact.

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If you cost $1 billion over 10 years, it’s $100 million a year. The T budgets based on getting about $300 million in fare revenue a year. That comes out to a $200 million annual deficit.

Where do we start cutting to free the T?

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If you cost $1 billion over 10 years, it’s $100 million a year.

Where you getting that interest-free capital?

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They should have spent it on technology to automate the Red, Blue, Orange, and Green Lines.

Vancouver Skytrain is automated. The new metro in Honolulu is automated.

Hell, when I visited Leningrad in 1975 one of their metro lines was automated.

Think of all the money they wouldn't have to spend paying warm bodies to run trains.

Spending a billion dollars on a new fare collection system doesn't make sense; after it's done, you're not collecting any more money than you did before. Automation, however, would eventually pay for itself.

Once again, the inmates are in charge of the asylum.

Where do we start cutting to free the T?

So if your $300 million fare revenue number is right, and if we want to cover it all from the general fund... Massachusetts tax revenue from all sources (income taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, etc.) is around $40 billion, so eliminating fare collection on the T would require an increase of 0.8% in taxes collected, for example the person paying $5,000 per year in taxes would end up paying $5,040. The average cost per person would be $42 per year.

I don't even ride the T very often, and I'd happily pay 20 times that, an extra $840 per year, if it meant we could have a free public transit system.

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The MBTA doesn't just need to cover its existing expenses, it needs substantially more money. And raising taxes and collecting fares allows for more money to be raised than just relying on one or the other.

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And raising taxes and collecting fares allows for more money to be raised than just relying on one or the other.

And not collecting fares would free up the billion in capital, plus the operating and maintenance costs of the ridiculous fare collection system, to spend on operating trains and buses.

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… speeding up the buses who won’t have to sit for minutes at busy stops while people board and pay fares.
Making exiting at North Station simple again instead of the pile ups at the exit gates.
Overall making riding the T faster and simpler and more desirable for all passengers.

And raised 1.8B! In one year. Guess how much our overlords are giving to the T? 11%! And you think all we need to do is raise taxes to cover the T again? And somehow it will be different?

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...you're getting paid $1M/yr or more, so:
1) You're going to be fine
2) You're not going to make friends by complaining about your tax burden.

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The millionaires tax was supposed to go towards schools and public transportation. It generated 1.8b extra revenue that never existed before. The mbta is getting 11% of that money. They should be getting a lot more, IMO. My point is that taxes were increased and the politicians couldn’t keep their grubby mitts off it so why, if we raised taxes again, would they do any different?

2. Do you come to uhub to make friends? I sure as shit don’t.

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.

n/t

11% of $1.8 billion is $198 million. That's hardly a drop in the bucket for the billions the T doesn't have to maintain the system. Even if it went up to a full 100%, it barely covers what the T needs.

The people behind the surtax knew they could easily sell it to voters with an anti-rich bent. The voters thought it would go to social things (like transportation and schools), but now we're seeing it was a small percentage, and I'm betting the rest of the money went to the General Fund. It's the same with the cigarette tax and the liquor tax - a small percentage goes to prevention, while the rest goes to the General Fund.

Don't be surprised in the future when the Legislature slides that surtax surreptitiously to non-millionaires. What excuse will they give?

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1) People who are savvy enough and plan ahead will pull more money into tax-free investments and donations to get under the million dollar amount and avoid paying the extra surcharge.
2) When the State gets as much money as they can from the millionaires, guess who they look for next to pay the surtax? The non-millionaires, especially the poor! The ones who are definitely not going to be fine giving 4% of what little they have and getting the same amount of nothing.
3) Patronizing people who earn more money than you do will also not gain you friends - they will think you're a condescending, smug jerk.

As it's in fact $400 million. I'll admit I was trying to get the figure by memory. Still, better to guess low than to claim it was more than it is.

But hey, good luck convincing people who don't use the T to raise their own taxes so we T riders can ride for free. It's not going to work out how you think it will. Just ask Rich Davey's most recent former employer. That $15 a day in congestion fees got scuttled quickly, even with I believe a billion in infrastructure installed. But thankfully that is only going to result in cancelled projects and "deferred maintenance", for now at least.

I'll keep using my current card until we are sure that the system is actually working.

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Discovered last weekend that my “current” Charlie Card expired on June 30. Prepaid value is unusable. Friendly attendant at Prudential Station let me in this once and explained that when I go to the Charlie Card Store to get a new card they should be able to transfer the value. So just need to find the time to go to the store location between the DTX Platforms….or is it the “temporary” relocation at the Transportation Building? Also have the option to mail the physical card and request a new card be mailed back, perhaps with the prepaid value transferred. In the meantime I’m buying tickets from kiosks.

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Mailed in a few expired cards and got a new card back in the mail a couple weeks later with the value consolidated on it. And then when I tried to use it, got an error message that the card was inactive.

By contrast, on a recent trip to Washington DC, I brought a couple of Metro cards leftover from a trip in 2014 that still had some value on them, and they still worked just fine.

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I was able to use my Charlie Card (with prepaid value loaded a few weeks ago) just yesterday, at Kenmore and Assembly. Was/is that supposed to go away?

Tiny print on the bottom right corner of the front of the card has an expiration date. Your card may have a different date?

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Mine is good through 09/28, so I guess I'll have plenty of time to use up the remaining stored value before diving into the Brave New World of the MBTA.

Mine is good through 09/28, so I guess I'll have plenty of time to use up the remaining stored value before diving into the Brave New World of the MBTA :-)

My monthly card expires on 9/30 and my card I keep cash value on for my infrequent rides on the subway expires 9/29. I had no idea the hard plastic cards expired.

...not September 30, 2024 :-)

So just need to find the time to go to the store location between the DTX Platforms….or is it the “temporary” relocation at the Transportation Building?

But if the signage that recently went up over one of the storefronts is any indication, there is or will be a Charlie Card Store in the Old South Building on Washington St, opposite the Walgreens, next to the entrance to State St Station.

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Still the "temp" CharlieCard store at the State Transportation Building.

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…MBTA store on Washington near School Street. I think the DTX store is relocating there.

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I saw the sign up at the new location and asked a friend at the T.

They want to close the one inside DTX permanently and use this new space instead.

Reason: Employees got tired of breathing in brake dust.

I can't say I blame them.

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Of the T being the T

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years late and now approaching $1 billion to install

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Lemme guess, it's a completely custom-built system, because of course we're different from any of the thousands of other public transit systems in the world, and we couldn't possibly be expected to buy an off-the shelf fare collection system that's in successful use somewhere else?

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Oooooh! Goody goody gumdrops yip yip yippee! Magoo.

whenever someone tries to pay cash, or use a CharlieCard with not enough money on it, and struggles to get the fare machine to accept bills until the bus driver decides just to wave them on.

And don't complain to the bus drivers about those machines. They hate them even more than we do.

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Those delays will still happen, sure, but they won't be as long since all the other passengers can simply board via the other doors rather than wait in line behind that person.

That said, for sure we could eliminate those delays by just going fare free.

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Opening up the other doors for fare collection.

But those machines are still a disaster. Did anyone even bother to test them on _real circulating bills_ before releasing them? Or was everyone expected to always have brand new unfolded ones (and even those don' t always work)?

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I like free stuff as much as anybody. But I don’t want a system with more crime, more vandalism, and more people living in trains and stations. Right now there’s a way to keep a lot of non-travelers out of the system: enforce fare payment. It could be enforced a lot better for sure, but if you eliminate that you will see these problems get worse.

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… getting in the stations without paying the fare?
You obviously don’t ride the T.

“It could be enforced a lot better.”

There’s practically no enforcement against bad behavior on the T at all. This is reason #1 why many people don’t take public transportation. (I do, and I have regularly for many years.) Enforcing the existing rules and fines would pay for extra personnel to issue fines and remove violaters many times over.

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But what about "The Rest of the Sentence" @Mark-

Apologies to Paul Harvey

That's an olympics worthy jump

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Fast, easy, hygienic, theft-proof, and better for security. I know the Big Brother/Security State argument, but that ship has already sailed.