Remember when the Green Line extension was the project that seemed like it would just never get done?
Those days are almost over. After decades of anticipation and several starts and stops, construction of the 4.7-mile, $2.3 billion rail expansion into Somerville and Medford will wrap up in the coming months. Service is slated to begin this fall — first to Union Square, tentatively expected in October, and then all the way to Tufts University in December.
But it’s the slow pace of another high-profile, big-money project that has now forced the MBTA to change up some of its plans for the new Green Line stations. The nearly $1 billion plan to convert the fare system to fully electronic was once supposed to have been online this year. But delays in that contract mean the MBTA has had to reconfigure how riders will pay at the new trolley stops.
Back in 2016, with the Green Line project’s costs spiraling out of control, officials redesigned the stations to save money. One major changes was to eliminate fare gates, with the expected earlier switch to the all-electronic system an important part of the rationale. Since the new system will allow riders on buses and above-ground Green Line trolleys to pay fares at any vehicle door, the T decided it could just scrap the fare gates at the seven new Green Line stations and instead ask riders to tap their cards as they board.
Now, it turns out the Green Line extension is going to beat the fare project to the punch. Years behind its original schedule, the new fare system won’t come to the Green Line network until 2023, according to the current schedule.
Figuring out how riders will pay in the meantime is not as easy as it may at first seem. Unlike other above-ground parts of the Green Line that lack fare gates, the Somerville stations will have center-running platforms. That means riders won’t be able to board on the right side of the trolleys, where the driver sits and have traditionally collected fares.
MBTA officials say that they will instead place a new type of fare vending machine on station platforms. These machines will allow passengers to pay for tickets or passes, but will also be equipped with fare readers similar to those on the fare gates.
“Those customers who do not need to purchase will still be expected to ‘tap’ at the same FVMs for validation/deductions” of passes or fares, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an email. “If customers interact with fare enforcement activities, their CharlieCards and CharlieTickets will show whether or not they paid/validated.”
It’s effectively an honor system — and not unlike what the agency is planning to implement when the new fare system later comes online, as riders will tap fare cards on readers at trolley doors. That, too, is like an honor system, but the MBTA plans to hire a legion of fare inspectors to conduct spot checks to verify riders have paid, and issue fines if they haven’t. All of that is still a couple years out, however, and it’s unclear whether the Green Line extension will have roving inspectors to handle similar duties when it first opens.
Baker seeks more Uber data
Governor Charlie Baker has revived a proposal to collect much more granular data about Uber and Lyft trips, while also imposing new safety requirements on the rideshare industry.
A year into a pandemic that has seriously blunted travel, it’s easy to forget how questions over regulating Uber and Lyft dominated Boston transportation policy debates just over a year ago. But Baker, who vetoed a proposal to raise fees on Uber and Lyft trips in January, has been pushing for a closer look at the services’ travel patterns since 2019, when he filed legislation that would greatly expand the data the companies must hand over to the state.
The information Uber and Lyft currently share is mostly limited to which communities trips start and end in over the course of a year. Baker has argued that more pinpoint information about the locations and times of trips would be a huge assist to transportation planners as they struggle to manage traffic. He filed a bill similar to the 2019 version on Thursday, renewing the effort.
Uber and Lyft provided more than 91 million rides across Massachusetts in 2019, but have said business fell off significantly in 2020 with the pandemic. The state has not yet released data for last year.
In addition to the data requirements, Baker’s bill would set stiffer penalties for motorists who pose as Uber and Lyft drivers, such as by sharing somebody else’s account.
It would also allow the state to determine whether the companies can increase prices based on demand during government-declared states of emergency. They are not allowed to do so under current law, a measure intended to ban so-called surge pricing during storms or short-term emergencies. But it has applied throughout the 13 months of the pandemic; Uber has suggested this rule has limited the number of drivers willing to take to the road and caused long delays to summon a trip.