The T could eliminate these fares tomorrow
Laurel Paget-Seekins’ April 23 op-ed, “Free bus is tempting, but low-income fares better address affordability,” posits a false choice. If the the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority eventually delivers on long-deferred plans for means-tested fares, then it will be more successful if done first on the trains. Meanwhile, the MBTA could eliminate bus fares tomorrow.
The MBTA plan to introduce low-income fares has been plagued by years of delays. The plan includes new kiosks where passengers will purchase fares before they board vehicles, and about 100 roving inspectors would be hired to ask passengers to prove they have paid. The T has promised discounts for low-income riders but insists that another state agency should determine eligibility. The governor vetoed legislation that would have introduced means-tested fares more promptly.
The new fare system will be easier to implement if it doesn’t include buses. Fewer fare kiosks and inspectors will be needed.
Finally, fare enforcement at the MBTA has suffered from problems with racial bias. The T should demonstrate that it has solved these problems before it considers sending inspectors onto buses.
The MBTA has a far better chance of successfully delivering low-income fares if free buses are part of the mix.
The writer is a senior analyst focused on transportation policy for the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and author of recent reports on eliminating bus fares.
It’s an efficiency question — collecting fares slows bus traffic
In “Free bus is tempting, but low-income fares better address affordability,” Laurel Paget-Seekins overlooks half the point of making bus service free.
As opposed to mass transit, fare collection on buses is an inefficient process that often greatly slows service. This is particularly true for buses that terminate at major transit hubs and the routes that have pay-as-you-leave fare collection. If a bus can pull into a stop and open both doors to have passengers enter and exit, the “dwell time” — the time it takes the bus to return to the flow of traffic — can be greatly reduced, particularly on heavily traveled routes. The result is speedier service.
While more timely service may result in increased ridership, eliminating fare collection probably would allow increased service with the same equipment and personnel, thanks to the efficiency factor. More efficient service would especially benefit those who rely on multiple bus routes to get to their destinations.
It would be worthwhile to conduct a trial study on various routes on the MBTA system to measure the benefits and costs that free bus service would bring.
The writer serves on the Watertown Public Transit Task Force.