The MBTA is launching a months-long effort to study its newly revived Fairmount Commuter Rail Line to boost ridership and test whether it can help create jobs, housing, and economic vitality in the struggling Boston communities it serves.
Since the T completed a massive $200 million restoration of the route through neighborhoods including Mattapan and Dorchester, the Fairmount Line has struggled to increase ridership and build on the promise that it could be a business boon in the neighborhoods.
T General Manager Beverly Scott said the T has not done a great job of making the case for its transportation investments, and the new effort aims to assess whether the line can boost ridership and do more than simply deliver passengers to their destinations.
“What we are trying to do is really about community-building and future-building,’’ Scott said. “We want to utilize this Fairmount community almost like a laboratory for the tremendous investments that not only we have made, but the community has made.”
At 9.2 miles, the Fairmount Line runs from Readville to South Station. Trains make stops in Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester, and Newmarket, near South Bay Shopping Center.
Much hope is riding on the line, which has the lowest ridership of all other commuter rail lines at a little more than 1,200 daily riders. The T wants to increase ridership by 20 percent.
Since the T opened three of four planned stations on the route in recent months, the Fairmount Line ridership has remained disappointingly low. Many in the communities it serves still view the commuter rail line as one heading out to the suburbs instead of in their neighborhoods.
The T is aiming to address some of those issues with the pilot program, which Scott said will run for 18 to 24 months.
Under the program, fares will be slashed at the Hyde Park station from $5.50 to $2, the same fare passangers pay for bus and T rides. Residents commuting from Readville to South Station will still pay $6 one way.
The T is also adding more trains and increasing daily trips from 28 to 40, and cutting off-peak wait time from two hours to less than an hour, T officials say.
Travel time from Readville to South Station is 25 minutes.
The program was announced recently after years of negotiations between the MBTA and numerous community advocates who have been pushing for equitable fares, increased service, and any marketing from the T on the line.
“We have been in talks and negotiations for years,’’ said Mela Bush, a community activist with the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition, who has long advocated for the line. “We wanted fare equity. We wanted more frequent service. We want it to go where we wanted, when we wanted, and at a price we can afford.”
Gail Latimore, head of the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, said the new measures are a step forward but there are still plenty more issues that need to be resolved, particularly in Codman Square, where many residents have jobs downtown.
Latimore said advocates had hoped that Readville commuters would not be the only ones stuck with higher fares and that the T would add weekend and holiday services.
“We also want more frequency,’’ said Latimore. “These changes are good, but [trains] aren’t also going to run every 20 minutes. . . . So, there are still some things that we would like to see.”
Sue Sullivan, who heads the Newmarket Business Association, hailed the new effort, saying increased service and reduced fares will ease cost and transportation barriers for thousands of meat packers, truck drivers, and store clerks who come to work there.
The Newmarket train station is nestled between Stop & Shop and Victoria’s Diner in the district, which has 400 wholesale, distribution, and retail businesses, Sullivan said.
“This program opens a whole new opportunity for our companies here,’’ she said. “There has never been a good way for someone to get from Hyde Park to Newmarket. . . . We’ve always asked for better service in this area. That has not happened, until now.”
First opened as a Midland Railroad line in 1855, it was used for passenger service for 88 years, and later for freight. Passenger service ran again for a period in the 1970s when construction along the Southwest Corridor necessitated rerouting of South Station-bound trains through Dorchester. But when the MBTA tried to revert the track to light freight, residents pressed for trains that would stop in their neighborhoods.
Improvements began in 2005 with the rebuilding of seven deficient bridges to improve travel speed, and upgrades to the Morton Street and Uphams Corner stations. Three of the four planned stations opened in recent months. The Four Corners/Geneva Station in Dorchester and the Newmarket stop opened July 1.Meghan Irons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.