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MBTA considers expanding youth fare discounts

The MBTA is considering expansion of its so-called Youth Pass program.
The MBTA is considering expansion of its so-called Youth Pass program.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Is a new discount for young people coming to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority?

For the past year, the MBTA has been testing a discounted pass, dubbed the “Youth Pass,” for 12- to 21-year-olds — and statistics gathered on the program have shown some promising results.

During the pilot program’s school months, people who had the new passes took 30 percent more trips on the T than they did before.

The number was even higher for those young people who were enrolled in school but didn’t previously have access to existing discounts from the T. They increased their trips by 99 percent after they got the new passes, according to preliminary data recently released to a group advising T officials on the program.

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When the fiscal control board in March voted to increase fares, board members also voted to try giving more students access to a yearlong, discounted monthly pass. On Monday, they’ll discuss whether the program should be expanded even further — accommodating more young people who may not be enrolled in traditional schools, or are working instead of attending school.

David Jenkins, who works with the Youth Affordabili(T) Coalition that pushed for the discount, said expanding the program should be an obvious choice.

“It increases access. It doesn’t impact service,” Jenkins said. “This is perfect public policy.”

About 770 young people used the new Youth Pass throughout the year, said Laurel Paget-Seekins, the MBTA’s director of strategic initiatives. From July 2015 to March 2016, the T spent close to $40,750 to subsidize the Youth Pass program, according to preliminary data.

The T already has a discounted student pass program that covers unlimited rides each month for $26 — a steep discount from the $75 monthly pass. (Those fares are set to rise in July, with regular passes increasing to $84.50 and student passes increasing to $30.)

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But many young people had trouble accessing the $26 passes. Boston Public Schools pays for some students passes, but many other districts don’t — and even BPS students couldn’t get the passes during the summer.

Students have also had access to discounts through special CharlieCards distributed through their schools: The cards gave students half-price discounts for every single ride, but students hadn’t been able to buy discounted monthly passes through the cards.

On top of that, young people who enrolled in GED or certain alternative programs didn’t have a program to get discounts. College students are also not eligible to get as large a discount as the $26 student pass, though some can qualify for an 11 percent discount through their university.

After years of protests and pleas from transit activists, T officials under Governor Deval Patrick’s administration agreed to test a Youth Pass program that could give discounts to a broader set of young people.

They opened the program up to 12- through 21-year-olds in Boston, Chelsea, Malden, and Somerville, and said those who participated could get monthly discounted passes for $26.

There was immediate interest as soon as the program was announced: More than 4,400 people applied. (The number who used it, however, was smaller. That was probably because of an extended application period, which meant signing up for 30 days, then having to return to a certain office each month to buy a pass and fill out a survey, according to Johnson.)

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Paget-Seekins said the fiscal control board has already made moves to help expand discounts for students: When the board voted in March to raise fares, it also asked the T to allow students with the special discount cards from their middle and high schools to be able to buy discounted monthly passes on fare vending machines.

Monday’s discussion will focus on a smaller group, she said: That includes 12- to 18-year-olds who may not be enrolled in school, and 19- to 21-year-olds who come from low-income households.

The expanded access would come as relief to many. Laura Correa-Franco, a 19-year-old at Emmanuel College, is a coordinator for the Youth Pass program for the city of Boston, but also uses it herself.

Correa-Franco said she used to have access to a cheaper student pass through her high school, but she worried about losing that access when she graduated. For a time, her mother purchased a discounted pass through her work, and they sometimes shared it.

The new Youth Pass, she said, was a necessity for students and other young people.

“It was a way for me to get around at an affordable price,” she said. “I wouldn’t get on the train without worrying about how much money I was wasting.”

Carmen’s Union will oppose privatization of more transit jobs

As the MBTA moves to outsource more jobs in the coming weeks, the agency’s largest union says it plans to come out strongly against the action.

The agency has made clear that it could outsource jobs in its fare collection and warehouse departments, a prospect that has riled union leaders.

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James O’Brien, president of the union, said in a statement Friday that privatization “clearly doesn’t equal improved service, or reduced cost.”

“Privatization means the loss of jobs for hard-working men and women who work every day to keep the MBTA running for our riders,” he said.

The union has more than 4,000 members across the agency, including bus drivers, subway operators, maintenance workers, and employees who count cash fares.

Union members plan to testify at fiscal control board meetings in the next two weeks as agency officials propose plans that could outsource jobs in the fare collection department and the agency’s stock rooms, according to the union.

On Monday, fiscal control board members are slated to hear more about plans that could target the jobs of Carmen’s Union members who count cash in the agency’s so-called “Money Room” in Charlestown.

Asked about the Carmen’s Union opposition, Jason Johnson, an MBTA spokesman, said in a statement that the agency is exploring privatization to “increase our cash management efficiency, as nearly every other transit agency in the nation does, invest savings back into the system and provide more reliable public transit for our riders.”

The fiscal control board meeting begins at 12 p.m. Monday at 10 Park Plaza in Boston.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole-.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.