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Pressley, Markey want MBTA to eliminate fares on all subway and bus service while Orange Line is shut down

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Senator Edward J. Markey have called on the MBTA to make all subways and buses free to ride for the 30-day Orange Line shutdown.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Senator Edward J. Markey are calling on the MBTA to make all subways and buses free to ride for the duration of the 30-day Orange Line shutdown, which starts in two weeks.

The federal lawmakers are urging the T to spend federal funds already provided to the agency to cover the lost fare revenue during the shutdown of the T’s second most popular subway line to ease the burden on perhaps hundreds of thousands of riders who will seek alternate transportation.

The T will shut down the Orange Line from the evening of Aug. 19 to the morning of Sept. 19 to repair and replace tracks and signals along the line.

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Before the shutdown was announced, the agency had expected to make around $40 million per month in fare revenue this fiscal year.

“Congress has appropriated sufficient resources to make this necessary investment and provide meaningful relief while the Orange Line is out of service,” Pressley and Markey said in a statement. “The state has let riders down, and riders shouldn’t have to shoulder both the inconvenience and the cost.”

Massachusetts got around $537 million for public transit upgrades earlier this year, part of $2.5 billion it’s set to receive for public transit from the federal infrastructure law, money a spokesperson for the senator said could cover the lost fare revenue during the Orange Line shutdown.

Much of that funding has already been committed to capital projects and would need to be reallocated for backfilling forgone fare revenue, experts said. The MBTA also received nearly $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds, much of which has already been committed to cover operating expenses.

The state currently has around $2.3 billion of unspent COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government, according to the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance. The funds are controlled by the Legislature, which would have to pass a law to allocate some of them to the MBTA.

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The Legislature recently allocated $266 million for the MBTA to spend on resolving issues identified by the FTA, which is conducting a safety management inspection of the agency, including Orange Line track work.

The financial maneuvering with existing funds to eliminate T fares on the Red Line, Blue Line, Green Line, and buses during the Orange Line shutdown would be well worth it, Markey and Pressley insist, by helping to ensure that riders are not financially impacted by the disruption. The move would also help people struggling to make ends meet amid record inflation, they said.

Both continue to push for a bill in Congress that would create a $5 billion competitive grant program to support fare-free transit programs across the country.

“The Baker Administration and the MBTA’s decision to shut down the entirety of the Orange Line for an entire month is devastating, especially for the Black, brown, disabled, low-income, and other marginalized communities who depend on the Orange Line to get to work, school, the grocery store, and access other critical services,” the Democrats said.

T riders are already enduring worse service after the MBTA cut back Red Line, Orange Line, and Blue Line train frequency by more than 20 percent last month in response to an FTA finding that it did not have enough dispatchers to safely operate. The T reduced bus service by about 3 percent in December and still hasn’t hired enough drivers to restore it.

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The MBTA said that when riders return to the Orange Line on Sept. 19, they’ll find the trains will be able to travel faster because of the track upgrades completed during the shutdown. In June, the FTA found that much of the Orange Line tracks were in poor shape, forcing trains to have to travel at reduced speeds for years.

A full report from the FTA about safety at the T is expected later this month.

During the upcoming shutdown, the MBTA is urging Orange Line riders to take the commuter rail, which will make additional stops. The agency said riders can board at all Zone 1, 1A, and 2 stations and show their CharlieCard or CharlieTicket to conductors.

On Wednesday, the MBTA approved a $37 million contract for shuttle buses for the Orange Line diversion, which will be free to ride. T General Manager Steve Poftak said Wednesday that the T is still working on the shuttle bus routes. Poftak said the T will not increase service on subways and buses during the shutdown.

Boston is working on plans to create bus-only lanes for the shuttle buses, and is considering making its Bluebikes free to ride. The city eliminated fares on the 23, 28, and 29 buses in March for two years by using some of its federal pandemic relief funds to reimburse the MBTA for fare revenue.

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MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo declined to comment on whether the T is considering eliminating fares on subways and buses. Pesaturo did not respond to questions about how much fare revenue the T expects to lose during the Orange Line shutdown.

“The MBTA understands and appreciates that this diversion will be an inconvenience for commuters, and that’s why the T is working closely with its municipal partners to develop viable and effective alternatives,” he said via e-mail.

The T expects to face a $236 million gap in its operating budget come next summer, which could grow to $406 million the following year.


Taylor Dolven can be reached at taylor.dolven@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @taydolven.