MBTA Details Proposed Changes to Modernize and Streamline Its Fare-Collection System

The MBTA outlined  proposed changes to modernize and streamline its fare-collection system, including the introduction of a mandatory one-time $3 fee for all CharlieCards riders, during a March 22 virtual meeting.

Steven Povich, the MBTA”s director of fare policy and analytics said the T intends to introduce new ways to pay for fares, including a  contactless credit card, a mobile wallet, a temporary CharlieCard, and a mobile CharlieCard, as well as the newly issued permanent CharlieCards.

In the future, CharlieCards would be available at every fare vending machine; at retail locations, which would be expanded to include more convenience stores; over the phone; and via the T’s mobile phone app, said Povich, while the mandatory $3 activation fee covers the cost of the card, as well as “one more trip protection,” which would prevent riders without cash from finding themselves stranded. (The one-time $3 fee won’t apply to contactless-card or mobile-wallet transactions, however.)

The new system would credit each commuter’s card for a single subway or bus fare, which could be paid for prior to their next trip through the myriad payment options offered; this would prevent the present possibility of riders finding themselves stranded, if they show up at a bus stop without a CharlieCard or cash on hand.

The T is creating programs to partner with local organizations in an effort to distribute CharlieCards at no cost to low-income riders, said Povich, and all reduced fare participants will receive a free CharlieCard. But several citizens on hand for the meeting expressed their concern that the new system would have the unintended consequence of making the T less accessible for the most financially vulnerable riders, especially those who don’t have bank accounts.

With the new system, which requires each commuter to have their own CharlieCard, card-sharing will be prevented, although children under 11 will still ride for free without a card.

Other service changes proposed by the T include permanent five-day FlexPasses on the commuter rail; lower pricing for one-day LinkPasses; new seven-day LinkPass for reduced fare riders; expanded reduced fare monthly passes to all modes of transportation; and second transfers on bus and subway and transfers between Express Buses.

If approved by the full T board, changes would be implemented on bus and subway first, followed by changes to commuter rail service about a year later, said Lynsey Heffernan of the MBTA, who added that overall T fares wouldn’t be raised as a result of these proposed changes.

Riders who now have CharlieCards would need to upgrade them once the new system has been implemented, and they would still be subject to the one-time $3 fee, but any remaining balance on their old cards besides this would be transferred to their new cards.

The T will also be introducing new fare-evasion measures, including installing readers at the rear of all buses and Green Line trains, while a new fare-verification team would be deployed throughout the system, armed with devices that readers can tap their cards on to show they’ve paid the correct fare for their trips.

Collique Williams, an organizer for Community Labor United, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and promoting the interests of 100,000 low- and middle-income working families in the Greater Boston area, said the proposed CharlieCard changes “add insult to injury” at a time when salaries are already outpacing the cost of living for many citizens.  “Giving a fare break to people who have discounted rates already isn’t a solution,” she said.

Williams also suggested that the new CharlieCard surcharge is only necessary because of the $500 million contract that the T entered into with Cubic Transportation Systems last year for a privatized collection system.

Sam Montano, director of organizing for GreenRoots, a Chelsea community-based nonprofit devoted to environmental justice, expressed his concern that while the new program would offer free passes to low-income individuals, it wouldn’t help those just above the poverty line.

On the upside, one meeting-goer lauded the new CharlieCard system as a way to eliminate the waste now caused by riders who discard their paper cards after a single trip on the T.

Meanwhile, Heffernan said the T would soon be overhauling its bus network, which will be the subject of many public meetings this spring.

The public can submit their comments to the MBTA on the proposed changes to its fare-collection system until March 31 at https://www.mbta.com/fares/fare-transformation/get-involved.

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