Making Transit More Affordable: MBTA Proposes Low-Income Fare Program to Benefit Riders in 170+ Communities, Public Comment Now Open
Posted on January 25, 2024
Proposed fare changes would also make the $10 Weekend Commuter Rail Pass permanently expanded to include holidays and eliminate change tickets.
Learn more at mbta.com/2024FareChanges.
The MBTA today announced several fare change proposals that aim to improve equity, increase ridership, and simplify fare rules, including the introduction of a reduced fare program for riders with low income, which would provide discounted fares to make public transportation affordable for those who need it most. Building upon the Healey-Driscoll Administration’s FY24 budget that includes $5 million for the MBTA to develop a low-income fares program, the new program would provide riders who are aged 26-64, non-disabled, and have low income with reduced fares of approximately 50% off on all MBTA modes. Program participants will demonstrate eligibility via existing enrollment in programs with a cutoff of 200% of the federal poverty line (or lower). This exciting new program would apply on the Commuter Rail, unlocking affordability for residents along those corridors and in the Gateway Cities, and would apply to the MBTA paratransit customers on the RIDE, cutting the price for ADA trips in half for eligible riders.
“We are incredibly excited about this program, which will make a difference in the lives of residents across the state and provide greater affordability, opportunity, and access to all MBTA service for residents as they travel throughout the week,” said Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Monica Tibbits-Nutt. “This underscores the bold vision and commitment of the Healey-Driscoll Administration to deliver equitable, reliable, and resilient transportation in a big way.”
“I’m thankful for the Governor and Legislature for the funding that allowed us to develop this proposed new reduced fare eligibility for riders with low income. As we rebuild and restore MBTA service, we are also focused on making fares more affordable, improving quality of life, boosting economic mobility across the entire MBTA service area, and encouraging more riders to return to the system following the pandemic,” said MBTA General Manager and CEO Phillip Eng. “As we offer these proposed fare changes for consideration, ensuring robust public engagement is imperative, and I hope riders will join the T at any of the eight upcoming public meetings to share their thoughts on these proposals. We welcome the public’s feedback.”
If approved by the MBTA Board of Directors, these fare changes would go into effect in spring and summer 2024.
The MBTA estimates the cost of the program to be approximately $52-62 million (including administrative costs, operating costs to meet induced demand, and fare revenue loss). According to prior research, riders with low income would be expected to take 30% more trips with a reduced fare, significantly increasing mobility while saving on transportation costs. More than 60,000 riders are expected to qualify for and enroll in the program, which is expected to result in 7 million more trips per year.
The MBTA welcomes public comment on these proposals at eight public meetings to be held in January and February 2024. More information on each public meeting is available at mbta.com/events. The public is also welcome to submit comments online through Thursday, February 29, 2024, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The proposed program for riders with low income is a multi-secretariat effort with the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). Existing MBTA reduced fare programs already provide support to students, seniors, riders with disabilities, and young people aged 18-25 with low income. These programs provide half-priced fares and passes on all modes (excluding the RIDE).
To make the program further accessible throughout Massachusetts communities, the MBTA will partner with third-party Community-Based Partners to manage in-person customer service and eligibility verification. These efforts include providing physical in-person locations where people can receive support with their applications and offering additional support whenever automatic systems are unable to successfully process applications. A Request for Proposals to select one or more Community-Based Partners was released yesterday, January 24.
Two additional proposed fare changes include:
- Replacing “Change Tickets” with CharlieCards: The issuance of paper CharlieTickets with stored value as change (a “Change Ticket”) will be phased out. This is due to limitations in the fare collection technology. Riders are encouraged to load stored value on plastic CharlieCards.
- Permanently expanding the $10 Weekend Commuter Rail Pass to include federal holidays: The $10 Weekend Commuter Rail Pass would include federal holidays. This pass allows for unlimited Commuter Rail trips on all three days of federal holiday weekends. For federal holidays that are observed mid-week, passengers can purchase a $10 Holiday Pass for that day.
The Title VI analysis, which assesses whether a proposed transportation project or service will have a disparate impact on minority populations or a disproportionate burden on low-income populations, will be shared with the MBTA Board of Directors and posted to mbta.com prior to the scheduled March 2024 Board meeting. This analysis is required by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for all projects that receive federal funding.
Statements of Support:
“Riders and workers in our Public Transit Public Good coalition celebrate this milestone in moving forward a low-income fare program at the MBTA. Reduced fares will be transformative for low-income riders throughout the MBTA service area and on all modes of public transit, and especially for communities of color facing historical burdens of exclusion and poverty,” said Community Labor United Senior Organizer Ziquelle Smalls. “A low-income fare will advance mobility, equity, and opportunity in the Commonwealth. We are so pleased to see the Healey Administration and the MBTA advance this essential policy.”
“The introduction of a low-income fare program is a huge step toward making the MBTA more affordable and equitable. We know that the MBTA is a lifeline for thousands of people and that this program will make it easier for all people, regardless of age or ability, to get where they need to go,” said LivableStreets Alliance Executive Director Stacy Thompson. “We look forward to working with the MBTA to support the launch of this important initiative.”
“Frederick Douglas said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and never will.’ We are witnessing the result of demanding fare equity from the powers that be,” said Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition Co-Chair and T Riders Union Former Director Mela Bush. “The low-income fare policy has come at a time of skyrocketing costs on food, housing, etc. Saving $500 a year on transportation for lower-income transit-dependent people can mean so much! For so long, we fought against fare increases for those who could not afford it. Now this! We are excited that this day has finally come, and we appreciate the MBTA for working with riders and rider advocacy groups to bring this to fruition.”
“BCIL strongly supports reduced fares for low-income users of MBTA services, as people with limited resources often have to triage key expenses,” said Boston Center for Independent Living Executive Director Bill Henning. “This initiative will support increased movement by people with disabilities in and around communities in the T’s service area, enhancing a fundamental element of independence and integration.”
“The MBTA's proposed low income fare program will provide affordable access to a significant number of individuals with disabilities. It is exciting,” said Riders’ Transportation Access Group (RTAG) Executive Board Member and RIDE Subcommittee Co-Chair Elizabeth Dean-Clower.
“We applaud the MBTA, Administration, and Legislature for their work to make a low-income fare program a reality and in particular for its commitment to include individuals who depend on the RIDE,” said Massachusetts Senior Action Council President Rosa Bentley. “The RIDE is a vital part of our public transit system that ensures access and mobility for those unable to use fixed routes. We thank the T for recognizing that public transit without affordability is not accessible. We look forward to our continued collaboration with the community and the T to ensure this exciting program is available to all low-income riders.”
“The MBTA Youth Pass Program is a great opportunity that makes travel throughout the state more accessible to young residents and encourages the use of public transportation, a win-win for the Worcester community and the state as this form of travel is equitable and beneficial for meeting carbon emission goals,” said Liza French with the City of Worcester’s Division of Youth Opportunities. The City of Worcester, one of the Commonwealth’s Gateway Cities, joined the MBTA’s Youth Pass program in November 2021, which provided affordable transit access for young people under age 25 with low-income and is the MBTA’s only current income-eligible reduced fare program. The new proposed reduced fares program builds directly from the Youth Pass model and would apply to all residents of Worcester and the other 170+ communities the MBTA serves.