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Coming soon to the Fairmount Line: Free transfers to the subway

New kiosks on train platforms will allow for electronic payments

Morton Street station on the Fairmount Line.
Morton Street station on the Fairmount Line.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

With a tap of a CharlieCard, it’s about to become a lot easier for Fairmount Line riders to pay their fares.

The MBTA has installed fare readers at all but one of the line’s eight stations, making it the first commuter rail line to allow riders to use money stored on their electronic CharlieCards to pay. The fare readers are individual kiosks at each station platform, not gates as on the subway; riders can still pay on board with cash, a credit card, or use a mobile app or pre-paid ticket or pass if they prefer.

Under the new system, Fairmount riders will also get free transfers from the trains to the bus or the Red Line once they reach South Station.

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Though limited to the Fairmount Line, this is a major change for the commuter rail, which has long operated with a separate fare system from the bus and subway. Commuter rail passengers have not been able to use money stored on CharlieCards to pay for commuter rail, the way they can for buses or the subway. Only monthly pass holders who use a plastic CharlieCard can use that to access the bus and subway for free.

But now, the MBTA has installed fare validation machines at the Fairmount Line’s seven Zone 1A stations, where trips cost as much as a subway ride, as well as at South Station. Riders tap the CharlieCard before boarding, and receive a paper ticket that they present to conductors as proof of payment. Riders will get a free transfer to the bus, and — in a deviation from previously announced plans — to the Red Line at South Station. Outbound riders also get the free transfer from the subway to the Fairmount Line if they tap their cards to the machine at South Station.

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The machines won’t be coming to other commuter rail lines. While those other lines charge different prices based on distance traveled, the Fairmount Line has a uniform fare among all but one of its stations — the same price as the subway. And that made it easy to install the machines, which were originally designed for the Green Line years ago.

The rest of the rail system will instead have to wait for a much larger revamp of the T’s fare technology over the next few years. At a cost of nearly $1 billion, the project will include a new system requiring commuter rail passengers to tap their CharlieCard, smartphone, or credit card both as they board and unload at stations, allowing the T to account for the differential fares. The MBTA has not yet determined how it will handle transfers on those rides.

But the agency promised to move on the quicker solution for the Fairmount Line last year, as an olive branch to activists who have pushed for the line to be treated more like part of the subway system with frequent service and a flat, low fare. The line is the only commuter rail line entirely located within the city of Boston, and serves a much higher rate of low-income riders than other commuter lines.

Advocates have for years said allowing CharlieCards would simplify things for Fairmount riders, including those who can’t afford to pay multiple fares as they transfer among services.

And once the system returns to normal weekday service, the T will run more Fairmount Line trains each day to test more frequent service; the MBTA has instead been running reduced service during the coronavirus pandemic.

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While the fare machines went up at the Fairmount stations in late April, the transfer system is not yet in place. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said it should be later this spring.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.