MBTA officials consider 2 fare-hike proposals

A Green Line train traveled down Huntington Avenue last week.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
A Green Line train traveled down Huntington Avenue last week.

Single-ride fares on the subway could go up a dime, and monthly passes could increase by $9.50 by this summer under a proposal being considered by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s control board.

Those increases would generate about $49.4 million in revenue annually, according to MBTA estimates.

A more modest alternative would also raise single-ride subway fares by about a dime but increase the prices of monthly bus and subway passes by $7.50, generating about $33.2 million in revenue.


Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack defended the decision to consider fare increases even as many riders criticize the authority’s service. She said the MBTA is looking at many ways to infuse more cash into the system, in addition to increasing fares.

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Shortly before a Monday meeting of the fiscal control board, she called the proposed increases “a reasonable contribution to make so that we can improve their service” when combined with other plans to improve the T’s finances.

The decision to consider fare increases comes as transit officials grapple with ways to balance the MBTA’s budget and shrink the ballooning cost of the proposed Green Line extension. Officials are looking at a variety of ways to save money, including canceling late-night subway and bus service, asking unions to forgo pay raises, and freezing department budgets.

Monday marked the first time that MBTA officials had formally outlined the potential fare increases, and the details were promptly criticized by transit advocates.

But most political leaders — including Governor Charlie Baker — did not dismiss the idea of increasing fares.


The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will hold 10 public meetings on the fare hikes and allow riders to e-mail or send in written comments.

Members of the control board intend to vote in March on increasing fares. They could choose one of the two options outlined Monday or adopt a different plan that incorporates feedback from the public.

An increase would take effect in July. It would be the first increase since 2014, when fares were increased by an average of about 5 percent across the system.

“I think these two options for fare increases that were proposed today are punishing the victim,” Rafael Mares, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said Monday. “We’ve gone through a winter where people didn’t have any service, and we’re already talking about a fare increase beyond what was planned or predictable.”

The fare increases in the two proposals outlined Monday have a considerable range.


For example, the more modest proposal would raise individual subway fares from the current $2.65 to $2.75 and increase CharlieCard subway fares from the current $2.10 to $2.20.

Monthly bus and subway passes would increase by 10 percent, from $75 to $82.50. The increases for commuter rail passes, which currently cost between $75 and $362, would range from 4.7 percent to 5.1 percent.

Under the other proposal, individual subway fares would go up 3.8 percent, but monthly bus and subway passes would rise 12 percent, from $75 to $84.50.

Increases for commuter rail passes would range from 4.9 to 10 percent.

MBTA officials initially presented four fare-hike proposals, but control board members voted to consider only two.

MBTA officials have said that fare hikes must be considered as they try to address a $242 million deficit for the next fiscal year. In formulating a budget, they have already built in a 5 percent fare increase, but they say an even higher hike may be necessary to make a dent in the budget gap.

With every proposed option, the MBTA would eliminate the paper tickets that allow people to take 10 rides on the commuter rail, but it would continue to make the 10-ride option available on its smartphone app.

Political leaders expressed a variety of positions on fare increases Monday.

Baker said he believes the control board should be considering all options, including how to raise money.

“What we said with respect to guidance is, ‘Just be sure the stuff you pursue is going to improve the rider experience,’ which, I think, has to be the fundamental objective of all of this,” he said Monday at the State House.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said that any discussion of fare increases should be the “last avenue we consider.”

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said he worried about raising fares too much and referred to a dispute over whether state law allows the MBTA to raise fares more than 5 percent every two years. Though the language in the law says the T can increase fares up to 10 percent, Rosenberg said Senate leaders had pushed to limit increases to 5 percent every two years.

“We’re concerned that the higher you drive the rates, the more people get off the trains and off the buses and back on the roads,” he said.

Under the proposal with steeper increases, ridership could drop by about 1.6 percent, according to MBTA estimates. Under the other plan, ridership could drop about 1.2 percent.

Control board members and MBTA officials have not seemed swayed by Rosenberg’s concerns. On Monday, Pollack said the language in the law allows officials to pursue a 10 percent hike.

The MBTA has some of the lowest transit prices compared with other major systems, but many observers worry that increased fares would disproportionately hurt people with low incomes.

“I’m uncomfortable considering proposals that put more of a burden on low-income folks,” said Brian Lang, a control board member.

The MBTA offers a monthly pass just for bus travel, as well as a monthly pass that includes unlimited rides on buses and subways. One proposal would raise the price of monthly bus passes about 16 percent, from $50 to $58, and the other would raise it 19.5 percent to $59.75, according to a document from the MBTA.

John J. Drew, the president and chief executive of Action for Boston Community Development, an antipoverty organization, said such increases would weigh heavily on low-income people.

“When housing and transportation and heat and food costs go up, they stand an imminent chance of losing housing, of not eating properly, not paying the rent,” he said.

Jeremy Mendelson, an advocate with the pro-transit group Transit Matters, called fare increases a “regressive policy” that will push more people to drive, instead of taking the T.

“By doing that, you increase traffic, you delay buses, and we all know that fares have very significant impacts on the most vulnerable people in society,” he said.

Others were less concerned.

Ashleigh MacLean, a rider who moved from California for medical school a few months ago, said the fares here seemed more affordable.

“I was surprised by how cheap it was to start with, so it’s not too bad,” she said.

Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contibuted to this report. Nicole Dungca can be reached at Follow her on Twitter@ndungca.