The MBTA has reversed its decision to impose a surcharge on all commuter rail riders who buy tickets on board, just days before that surcharge was to take effect, a spokesman for the transportation authority said.
The surcharge would have amounted to a double fare increase for many riders starting Sunday, because a majority of commuter rail stations lack vending machines, ticket windows, or partner retail businesses selling tickets.
The T had been calling the surcharge a “nondiscount” and baking it into the price of tickets posted on new signs detailing the July 1 fare increases, though the surcharge had scarcely been publicized when the transit agency proposed fare and service changes earlier this year. That prompted criticism and concern from riders and lawmakers in commuter rail districts.
“While we appreciate that the MBTA faces a short-term budget deficit and a considerable amount of debt, this additional charge penalizes those residents who choose public transportation as a means of travel,” wrote Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch of Wellesley, in a June 22 letter signed by two dozen legislators asking the T to reconsider. “This proposed plan will be particularly burdensome for constituents in our communities who utilize commuter rail service and do not have access to the closest ticket vendors, some of which are more than 20 to 30 minutes away from the actual station.”
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the T will instead add the $3 charge, starting Sunday, only when riders buy tickets on board trains after getting on at stations where tickets can be conveniently purchased. That more closely mirrors the existing policy of tacking on a surcharge ($1 off-peak, $2 peak) for failing to buy tickets before boarding at stations where they are available.
“We believe this policy allows the MBTA to move forward in reducing the number of on-board fare collection transactions, cash handling costs, and reduces fare evasion by allowing conductors more time to verify all tickets and passes,” Pesaturo said by e-mail. “By reducing the number of time-intensive on-board cash transactions, conductors are able to better allocate time toward safety, fare verification, and operational responsibilities.”
Pesaturo said the MBTA will reexamine the policy in the fall, after it introduces a mobile application to allow the majority of customers with smartphones to buy and display tickets with their phones.
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com.