By Bob Salsberg, Associated Press
BOSTON — More riders used the Boston-area public transit system in September than in the same month a year ago despite recent fare hikes, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said Wednesday.
Figures released by the MBTA showed the average number of weekday rides increased system-wide by 1.5 percent last month, compared to September 2011.
Bus ridership was up 2.3 percent and subway ridership increased 3 percent. Commuter rail ridership fell slightly, by 0.2 percent, and there were fewer trips on The Ride — a service for disabled passengers — in September compared to the same month a year ago.
The average 23 percent fare hike that took effect on July 1 was the first in five years and was designed to help close a $159 million deficit for the debt-ridden transit system. Ridership also rose in the months of July and August compared to those same months a year ago, but September was seen as the first major test of how passengers would respond to the higher costs.
"September is probably a better indicator because schools are back and people's vacations have ended and we're back to full work weeks," said Jonathan Davis, the T's acting general manager.
Transportation officials had predicted ridership on an annual basis to drop 5.5 percent following the fare hikes. Davis said the improving economy and overall reliability of the MBTA were the likely reasons why the fall-off hasn't materialized.
Officials would closely monitor trends for The Ride, which absorbed a disproportionately higher fare increase than other MBTA services. Fares for most disabled passengers rose 100 percent, from $2 to $4, with an even larger hike for those living outside of the zone in which the T is required by law to provide service.
"We want to make sure that constituency is still being served, but we did recognize that The Ride is our highest cost transportation mode," averaging about $40 to $45 per trip, he said.
Despite the fare increase, Davis said the T still faces a projected $130 million deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1, 2013. To avert the need for another fare hike, state officials are urging legislators to address transportation funding issues when they return to Beacon Hill in January.