Mayor Wu, transit advocates rally for low-income MBTA fare program

By Emily Tan
Boston University News Service

Transit advocates called on Massachusetts lawmakers to pass legislation on a low-income fare program for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), during a rally on April 25 at the Park Street station. They were joined by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who has already implemented fare-free service on bus routes 23, 28 and 29.

“We need the low-income fare, so we do not have to choose between a trip and another basic need,” said Kathy Paul, 1st Vice President of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, at the rally.

The MBTA currently offers reduced fares for people with disabilities, seniors, middle- and high-schoolers in the Student Pass Program and people ages 18 to 25 with low income. People who are legally blind, children ages 11 or younger, uniformed military personnel, police, firefighters and government officials ride free, according to the transit system’s website.

For years, advocates have backed a reduced-fare program for low-income people across all ages.

Low-income citizens make up a significant portion of MBTA riders. During the pandemic, they made up nearly 40% of passengers, according to a study by the Public Transit Public Good coalition. And compared to those with higher income, low-income riders spend a higher percentage of their earnings on transportation. 

A report by the Public Transit Public Good coalition found that 12 monthly transit passes cost the state’s lowest fifth of earners at least 2.5 weeks of their income, while the same costs the highest fifth two days of their income.

A reduced-fare program for low-income citizens would save more than 90,000 riders around $500 each annually, according to the study by the Public Transit Public Good coalition. A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also found that it could boost this group’s ridership by 30% and improve access to health care and social services. 

“We believe that a pilot to kick this off could be less than $10 million, and we’re looking at less than $100 million annually to pay for a systemwide fare that would also include the Commuter Rail,” said Stacy Thompson, executive director of LivableStreets Alliance, at the rally.

Lawmakers passed legislation in January 2021 on a low-income fare program for the MBTA, but Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed the decision as there were no plans for how the transit system’s loss of revenue would be replaced. 

A new bill (H.4481), originally H.3526, has since been filed by Rep. Adrian Madaro, D-Boston. It was reported favorably by the Joint Committee on Transportation and referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means late February.

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