Boston Mayor Michelle Wu joined transit advocates in downtown Boston Monday to call on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would establish and fund a low-income fare program for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s system.
According to advocates, data show that a reduced fare for the MBTA would allow low-income people to afford nearly a third more trips.
“We know that for Boston to be a city for everyone, everyone’s got to be able to get where they need to go,” Wu told the crowd of dozens gathered outside the Park Street T station on the edge of Boston Common.
A bill currently in front of the state House Ways and Means Committee establishing a low-income fare program would “equitably expand the proven affordability benefits of programs like the MBTA Youth Pass and free fare bus pilots, as well as fare free regional transit authorities,” advocates said in a press release. The legislation, authored by state Representative Adrian Madaro of East Boston, previously received a favorable vote by the Legislature’s joint Transportation Committee.
Karen Maxwell, assistant secretary and executive board member of Boston Carmen’s Union, Local 589, told the crowd that she sees the need for reduced fares firsthand through her job. She added that her own son opts to take two buses and a train from his Brockton home to his job in Boston rather than the commuter rail because the latter is too expensive.
“A low-income fare could cut commuter rail costs in half, giving access to people who are currently excluded from the fastest transport on account of its high costs,” she said.
After the rally, demonstrators headed to the Massachusetts State House to advocate directly to lawmakers to move the proposal forward. Rally organizers estimate that a six-month pilot program could cost $10 million, while a longer pilot could cost $20 million.
Wu, who often rides the Orange Line, has long been a champion of equitable transit. As mayor, she has pushed for a collection of free bus routes in the city. Currently, the city of Boston is reimbursing the MBTA for fare revenue using $8 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds on its 23, 28, and 29 bus routes for two years. The city previously eliminated fares for riders on the 28 bus starting in August of last year, also using federal funding.
On Monday, Wu said public transit systems throughout the United States have had to rethink how they fund services. The pay-as-you-go model, she said, simply isn’t working anymore.
“This is a moment to really come together and recognize we know what works,” she said.
The T has faced numerous questions in recent weeks following the death of a man who was killed after getting caught in the doors of a Red Line train in South Boston. And, over the weekend, an out-of-service Red Line train derailed near the Kendall stop in Cambridge. No injuries were reported in that incident.
Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Suffolk district attorney’s office said Robinson Lalin, 39, got stuck in a train car’s doors at Broadway station before he was dragged a short distance and died. MBTA subway car doors are designed to reopen when obstructed and trains are not meant to move unless all doors are closed, experts have said.
In the aftermath of such incidents, Wu was asked at the rally if she considered the T, which is a division of the state’s Department of Transportation, to be safe. In her response, she acknowledged that deferred maintenance in the system over many decades has posed problems.
“We can’t be sitting back and waiting to respond, we need to address issues before they come up,” she said.
Regarding whether she wants to hear more information from the investigation into Lalin’s death, Wu said “We’ll be monitoring that very carefully.”
Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.