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    Starts & Stops

    Support grows for MBTA discounts for low-income riders

    The Green Line.
    Evan Richman/Globe Staff/ File 2005
    The Green Line.

    With fare hikes possibly looming from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, two people who will vote on the increases are pushing for a fairly innovative idea: discounts for low-income riders.

    Board members Monica Tibbits-Nutt and Brian Lang on Monday said they would want such discounts in place by July, when the MBTA could next enact fare hikes.

    During the board’s weekly meeting, Tibbits-Nutt called increasing fares without such breaks for low-income riders “unconscionable.”


    “We have some of the lowest fares in the country, but for a lot of people, that fare is still unaffordable,” she said. “I can’t stand the idea of making that even more unaffordable for people who are already public-transit dependent.”

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    With a CharlieCard, subway rides cost $2.10 and bus rides cost $1.60. Commuter rail rides cost from $2.10 to $11.50, depending on the distance you’re traveling. A monthly pass for unlimited bus and subway rides is $75 and a monthly commuter rail pass ranges from $75 to $362.

    The board plans to discuss new fare proposals in January, followed by a February vote. The MBTA could then put new prices into effect in July, just in time for the new fiscal year.

    The MBTA already has discounts for seniors, students, and those with disabilities. But discounts for low-income riders could be more difficult to administer, since the MBTA doesn’t usually ask riders for income levels.

    But even with the administrative strain, some influential people have already voiced support for a system that would give breaks to low-income riders. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, whose research as an academic often delved into how to make public transportation equitable for all riders, expressed interest in such a program in April.


    The MBTA has also been experimenting with the concept on a smaller scale with discounts on the Ride, the MBTA’s door-to-door service for disabled riders who cannot use the buses and trains. Some Ride users have their $3 or $5 fare reduced by $1 if they can prove they use other government programs for low-income people. Right now, about 580 Ride users have qualified for the program.

    The agency is also testing a youth pass: a $7 weekly pass or a $26 monthly pass for those ages 12 through 18 who live in Boston, Chelsea, Somerville, or Malden. Those 19 through 21 years old who are also enrolled in school or job training programs can also use the passes.

    Discounts based on income already exist in a number of government programs, but it’s fairly rare in the case of public transit. The Seattle region’s public transportation system, King County Metro Transit, made a big splash earlier this year after cutting fares for those who earn below a certain level.

    Tibbits-Nutt says the MBTA shouldn’t be discouraged from trying such a program.

    “I don’t want to see this become something that keeps getting pushed off because of the difficulty of implementation,” she said. “Most innovative things are hard to implement.”


    Commuter rail expiration dates

    Ever wondered why your commuter rail ticket expires?

    Anne Weinstein, a reader from Needham, has. She wrote in to say that it seems unfair to lose money on a ticket that you didn’t use within 90 days.

    “The MBTA wants commuters to pre-purchase tickets,” she wrote. “Sometimes your plans change or you may not use a [10-ride] ticket depending on how often you are commuting into Boston.”

    Years ago, some commuter rail tickets didn’t expire for six months. Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, said the current expiration rules go back to 2012, when they were implemented as “a revenue management and fare collection control measure.”

    I asked him what that meant. Was it to make sure people weren’t using old commuter rail tickets bought before a substantial fare hike?

    Essentially, yes.

    “It was not uncommon for the MBTA to experience robust sales of commuter rail tickets in the days prior to a new fare structure taking effect,” he wrote in an e-mail.

    That meant some quick-thinking commuters would be able to dodge fare hikes for an additional six months if they timed it right. Unfortunately for them, you can only do it for 90 days now.

    Nicole Dungca can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.