MBTA weekend discount will come back to commuter rail
After a brief hiatus, the MBTA is bringing back a popular fare discount starting this Saturday that gives riders unlimited commuter rail trips during weekends for just $10.
Originally tested between June and December, the $10 all-weekend fare was proposed as a way to drive ridership on already-scheduled but mostly empty trains, where a single one-way ticket can cost as much as $12.50.
The discount appeared to be successful during the brief trial run: Officials said the T saw an uptick in commuter rail revenue while selling about 180,000 of the weekend passes. However, it was abruptly halted last month because of federal rules that require transit agencies to determine whether fare changes that last longer than six months are fair to low-income riders.
On Wednesday, MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the Federal Transit Administration is allowing the T to run the discount for another six months before completing the federally required “equity analysis,” which determines how different classes of riders are affected by changes in prices.
“Resuming this pilot allows our customers to continue taking advantage of commuter rail as a travel option on weekends, while we study the potential for making this program permanent,” MBTA general manager Steve Poftak said in a statement.
Pesaturo said the six-month extension will give the T time to gather more data for the equity analysis.
The sudden end of the discount frustrated members of the T’s governing board, who were upset about pulling the plug on a seemingly successful program in the middle of the travel-heavy holiday season.
But in a letter to the T granting the extension, the FTA said the T had not needed to suspend it last month because test discounts “may remain in place while the transit agency conducts the analysis.”
“Had MBTA reached out to the FTA Office of Civil Rights prior to its decision to suspend the pilot, FTA would have provided technical assistance and guidance on this matter,” the letter said.
The FTA previously scolded the T in 2016 for canceling its late-night weekend subway service without conducting an equity analysis.
Although the commuter rail weekend discount meant cheaper prices for many riders, the concern is that, because commuter rail prices are based on distance traveled, it could be a much bigger benefit to higher-income riders from more far-flung suburbs.
For example, a round-trip ticket between Manchester-by-the-Sea and Boston costs $20, compared with $4.50 for Chelsea, a poorer city much closer to Boston.