Magazine

Public policy / government

At MIT, there is such a thing as a free ride

MIT took innovative steps last year to dissuade its employees from driving to work.

Boston, MA 12/22/2015 – Commuters wait for a Red Line train at the Park Street T Station in Boston, MA December 22, 2015. (Globe staff photo / Craig F. Walker) MBTA
The Boston Globe
MIT gave all of its employees free MBTA bus and subway access through a chip embedded in their university ID cards. Commuter rail passes are offered at a 60 percent subsidy.

If there’s an upside to Boston’s notoriously congested roads and aging public transportation system, it’s this: To minimize the hassle of getting to and from work, a growing number of local companies are giving their workers generous commuting benefits. Think Hubway passes, CharlieCards, parking allowances, even sneaker subsidies.

Then there’s MIT, which, true to its high-tech reputation, took a pair of innovative steps last year to dissuade its employees from driving to work. First, it gave all of them free MBTA bus and subway access through a chip embedded in their university ID cards. (Commuter rail passes are offered at a 60 percent subsidy.) It also began charging for gated parking on a daily basis rather than offering annual passes (those still work on its few ungated lots). Says Michael Owu, chair of MIT’s Transportation and Parking Committee: “By changing to a daily parking rate, it gives people a choice on a daily basis: Do I want to drive in and pay for parking, or take the T and go for free?”

The initiative has multiple goals: getting fewer people to drive, inducing more people to take public transportation, reducing traffic congestion, minimizing the school’s carbon footprint, and saving money on building new garages and parking lots. MIT may release preliminary data on how its new approach has changed employee commuting habits in September, when it’s been in effect for a year. But “feedback to date,” Owu says, “has been, for the most part, very positive.”

Sacha Pfeiffer is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.