• May Charlie finally return? Fare Free system discussion.

  • Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.
Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

Moderators: CRail, sery2831

  by eolesen
Eliminate fares sounds intrea intriguing...

Dozens of jobs in accounting and ticket fulfillment could disappear overnight, along with station sales agents and all the nonsense that goes with handling money and refunds...

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  by BandA
The problem is that the politicians are unwilling to do what needs to be done to fix the MBTA. If Ms. Wu wants to buy tokens for everybody on Boston's dime I would go for a joyride and buy a cannoli. If they want to survey all commercial property in Greater Boston and determine how many customers use the "T" and apply a surcharge to their property tax to cover the deficit, that would be excellent.
  by Arborwayfan
I think "all bluster" is an exaggeration. If the mayor of Boston could come up with enough money to replace all the T's fare revenue, they'd have a chance of getting the T (or the state) to agree. If they came up with enough money to buy a pass for everyone in Boston, they could do that without even having to negotiate. And of course a mayor could put a lot of energy into lobbying and bargaining with state legislators and so on to eliminate fares.

Mass has questions; not as easy to get on the ballot as in California, I guess, but still a group of voters could perfectly well collect the signatures to put "no fares on the T and the state and cities have to somehow pay to keep at least the same level of service" on the ballot.
  by west point
About fares======== Are there breakdowns on how much each service receives in fares ? Is it even possible to do so ? How many extra operating personnel are there on each service just for fare conformity and fare collection ? Cannot remember do any routes have curved platforms that extra personnel are needed for safety reasons ?
  by Trinnau
MBTA posts their audited financials on their website. The most recently available is FY20, which ended June 30, 2020. Here is a link to that page. This includes a breakdown by mode on page 9 for subway/bus/commuter rail.

With the T's staffing what it is and a lot of the fare system moving to automation there is not likely to be a whole lot of savings on the operating side if the MBTA moved to a no-fare model. There will be some, but it'll be a drop in the bucket. And if it drives increased ridership that might mean an increased demand for service and more staff to run that service.

Pre-COVID the T's financial people "trimmed the fat" quite a bit on the operating side to try and balance the budget, in fact too much. That was called out quite clearly by the independent safety report commissioned in the wake of the Red Line derailment in 2019.
  by HenryAlan
CSRR573 wrote: Tue Sep 21, 2021 11:30 pm Im curious, how would the mayor of a city be able to call shots and eliminate fares on a state agency?
Technically, it's pretty easy, and we already have a model for this with the airport silver line service, which is free from Logan to South Station. MassPort simply pays the MBTA for the uncollected fares. The city could do the same for all trips that originate in Boston. But I don't think that's the goal in this case. I'm pretty sure Michelle Wu wants to generate a state level discussion about how the MBTA is funded, one that looks at eliminating fare box revenue in place of something else. The mayor has influence in this regard, but she will need to bring some other folks to the table for that discussion.
  by diburning
Well, I can see a few issues with making the MBTA fare free.

1. For rapid transit, fares paid at fareboxes, as well as tap ins with charlie cards and charlie tickets, are the way that they measure ridership right now. If they make fares free, they'd lose this source of rideship data, and would have to either invest in equipment to count ridership, or pay people to physically count (whether in person or through a camera).

2. When funding gets tighter or costs increase beyond what the funding can pay for in the future, this incentivizes cutting service to balance a budget over investment and improvement.

3. The MBTA has already spent money on AFC 2.0. Making the MBTA fare free would render this investment worthless. I suppose they can hold onto it, or even install it anyway in case the fare free system doesn't work, so that they can immediately start taking fares again.

4. The MBTA is able to order new vehicles such as the red and orange line cars from foreign companies because they paid for them with proceeds from fares collected. If they go fare-free, relying on government funding for everything, the MBTA will be subject to the Buy American Act which limits where they can source even simple things like spare parts, and opens them to be strong armed by the smaller pool of eligible vendors.
  by Trinnau
You make some interesting points.

1 - Commuter rail is already installing people counters, so the MBTA has an alternative in-house already.

2 - This is an interesting point, but if funding is found to cover fare revenue it should include annual increases and escalation

3 - But they haven't actually spent it all yet, just identified the funding and committed to the project. So this money could be diverted elsewhere, for example to cover alternative counting technologies in #1.

4 - This is inaccurate. MBTA fare revenue goes directly to cover operating expenses, it is not used for capital procurement. It falls far short of covering the needed revenue to actually operate the T every day - there certainly isn't any left over for capital purchases. Additionally, the requirement of Buy America is that certain materials must be purchased in the US - not built buy a US company. This requirement only applies to Federally funded projects. Massachusetts can identify other funding sources (state bonds, tax revenue, etc.) that are not of Federal origin if they do not want to have a project subject to Buy America.
  by l008com
I wonder how accurately you could measure ridership by weighing the trains. If they built scales at key spots along the lines, especially places where the trains normally pass very slowly. And also at the parking facilities. They could get regular measurements of the empty cars and compare them to the full in service cars. I bet you could get a pretty good estimation of ridership that way.

That said, you can just install turn-styles but have them open without putting money in them. That would probably be easier starting from scratch but definitely be easier for an existing system since there are turn-styles everywhere.
  by eolesen
Much easier to put crowd recognition cameras in at large stations to count unique bodies coming off the trains.

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  by danib62
I think the easy way to do this for Mayor Wu would be to do what they're considering in DC which is to give every DC resident a SmarTrip card that gets loaded with $100 every month that way MD and VA residents as well as visitors still have to pay their share. https://wapo.st/3o0ClSq