Metro

MBTA users will get a day of free rides, pass discount

MBTA workers cleared a stuck commuter rail train from Weymouth Landing station last month.
John Blanding/Globe Staff/File
MBTA workers cleared a stuck commuter rail train from Weymouth Landing station last month.

Seeking to placate commuters furious about poor service since late January, the MBTA will offer a day of free rides on all of its services on April 24 and a 15 percent discount on monthly and weekly passes in May.

The board that oversees the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Wednesday approved what amounts to a goodwill gesture, even as its commuter rail service continues to run on a reduced schedule more than three weeks after the last major snowfall.

The day of free rides and discounts will cost the T $5 million at a time when its leaders acknowledge the transit system needs to spend heavily to repair and replace aging equipment. Board members unanimously approved the perks, a shift from last week, when some of them expressed concern that every dollar spent on a refund was a dollar that wouldn’t go back into the system.

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“We heard loud and clear after our last meeting that people felt that they were owed some program that acknowledged what they had gone through and that expressed appreciation,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, one of the seven members of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors.

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But some commuters who used services that were crippled by the storms were less than thankful.

Jeffrey Howard, a regular commuter on the Red Line, which saw overcrowding and delays because outdated trains could not handle the snow, characterized using $5 million for discounts as “ridiculous.”

“I think they should spend money on fixing the infrastructure and upgrading the equipment,” he said. “They need to spend the money on fixing it to avoid problems like this in the future.”

Andrew Moss, who commutes from Jamaica Plain to Cambridge on the Orange and Red Lines, said he would choose fixing the system over offering free fares and discounts in the spring.

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“It’s a little too late for it to happen in May,” he said. “At that point, some of us will be walking or biking.”

At the moment, plenty of commuters are fuming.

After the last major snowfall hit the region on Valentine’s Day, Beverly A. Scott, who was general manager at the time, predicted it would take up to a month to restore regular service. The T’s subway lines reopened weeks ahead of that schedule.

But Keolis Commuter Services, which operates the commuter rail, has said it would not return to its regular schedule until March 30. As of Tuesday, only half to three-quarters of regularly scheduled trains were running, and even with the reduced schedule, some trains are still running late.

Some commuters accepted news of the goodwill gesture with an air of resignation.

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“My faith in the MBTA is not good right now,” said Laura Stewart, who commutes daily from Allston to the New England School of Law. “It’s the best they can do.”

Frank DePaola, the T’s interim general manager, said he knew the T needed to regain the trust of commuters.

“We’re trying to balance returning some value to our customers but also having the financial capacity to still run the system,” he said.

Officials also hope to coax some customers back to the T. Ridership dropped about seven percent in January, compared with January of last year, according to MBTA figures presented to the board Wednesday. The T has yet to provide February numbers to the board.

The April 24 free fare day falls on the Friday of school vacation week in Massachusetts. Riders will be able to travel for free on MBTA subways, trolleys, buses, trains, and boats all day, which will cost the service about $1.4 million.

The 15 percent discount planned for May will apply to both monthly and weekly passes on subway, bus, commuter rail, and some ferry services.

In electing to give benefits to future riders, rather than compensating commuters for poor service they have already suffered, the T was trying to avoid pitfalls that cropped up when they issued refunds in the past.

Some riders used fake names in order to claim multiple refunds for one late trip. Others filed claims for trains that they had not ridden. Officials eliminated the refund program in 2011 as part of an effort to reduce a budget deficit.

The T won’t need to fill a budget gap this coming fiscal year. On Wednesday, board members approved a preliminary spending plan that includes $1.57 billion in expenses and an additional $452 million in debt service.

The T’s chief financial officer, Jonathan Davis, said the agency was able to avoid a deficit because of money provided in Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed state budget. The MassDot board must approve the T’s spending plan by April 15.

In the coming months, the T must also present a five-year capital plan to address the $6.7 billion officials say it needs to update its trains, tracks, stations, and infrastructure.

Pollack said she is hoping to present the board with that five-year plan before the end of May.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.