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Starts and Stops

MBTA wrapping up weekend commuter rail discount

In a bid to fill weekend trains that are mostly empty, the MBTA offered riders a deal for the last six months: a $10 pass for unlimited travel anywhere on the commuter rail, all weekend long.
In a bid to fill weekend trains that are mostly empty, the MBTA offered riders a deal for the last six months: a $10 pass for unlimited travel anywhere on the commuter rail, all weekend long.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File 2018/Globe Staff/file

This weekend may be the last chance to grab a deep discount on a train ride.

In a bid to fill weekend trains that are mostly empty, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority offered riders a deal for the last six months: a $10 pass for unlimited travel anywhere on the commuter rail, all weekend long.

Not a bad deal, considering a normal one-way trip from the most distant parts of the system costs $12.50.

Originally planned for just the summer, officials in September extended the offer through Dec. 9. Now it’s coming to an end. It’s unclear whether the program — modeled after the permanent weekend fare in Chicago — will return, spokesman Joe Pesaturo said, but the six-month test will be discussed at a T oversight board meeting Monday.

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Ridership numbers on the commuter rail are imprecise, however, because they rely on hand-counts by conductors. Still, weekend ridership has always been low. Officials estimate that there are about 16,600 passenger trips on Saturdays and 9,000 on Sundays, compared with 125,000 on a weekday.

The numbers are so low that in 2017, the T even considered canceling weekend service — but quickly shelved that idea amid sharp public pushback. A year later, the agency instead decided they had little to lose by trying to entice new riders on to trains that are running anyway with low fares.

Over the last six months, Pesaturo said, riders bought about 180,000 $10 passes, an average of about 7,200 a week. That made up less than a quarter of all weekend commuter rail sales, suggesting many riders opted to pay individual fares.

It’s tough to know for sure because of the problems tracking commuter rail ridership. It’s not even clear how many total riders took weekend trains over the last six months because some passengers have monthly passes that are not counted in sales figures.

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The T is planning to unveil its first thorough review of commuter rail ridership since 2012 in the next few weeks, after workers spent parts of the spring and fall counting ridership at stations. The agency is also installing automated passenger counters on its coaches, which should let it track ridership on the commuter rail more consistently going forward.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.