Questions raised in community meeting before MBTA fare increases

The MBTA Green Line. Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

By Mia Ping-Chieh Chen
BU News Service

ROXBURY – The MBTA held its first session of a series of community meetings around the region on Feb. 4 in Dudley Square to share initiatives they have been working on, including fare increases, bus routes changes, and new payment system with various stands for public outreach and expecting feedback from the residents.

The MBTA recently unveiled its 2019 fare changes proposal on Jan. 28, which would result in an average increase of 6.3 percent across all of the different fare categories and take effect this July.

The plan includes increasing CharlieCard rates on subway and bus trips by 15 and 10 cents each way respectively and raising the price of a monthly pass for the bus and subway to $90.

“I surely acknowledge that there are lots of customers who feel that the MBTA hasn’t improved,” said Steve Poftak, the newly-appointed MBTA general manager, affirming his belief regular and modest fare increase is one way allows MBTA to meet budgetary goals and investment goals.

Several residents, however, expressed their discontent and concerns in the meeting, indicating their desire for a higher standard of reliability, frequency, and affordability than the new projects.

“You can’t keep on asking people to pay more if the service is not improving,” said Rachel Miselman, a resident of Dorchester. She said the MBTA is engaging in “poor planning” regarding bus stops with consistent problems of on-time performance.

She presented the route between Dudley Square and Roxbury Crossing as an example. Approximately one mile according to Google Maps, this route can sometimes take up to 16 minutes by bus. Some people are forced to pay more for taxis as an alternative option in order to get to work on time.

“And I know some people just walk instead of taking the T,” Miselman said.

MBTA aims to improve bus network by proposing the Better Bus Project, which would change or cancel several bus routes and reinvent the bus system. Reliability and frequency were the significant feedback from the public outreach last summer, according to Robert Guptill, the manager of service planning. The project is intended to be developed over the spring and roll out in the fall.

“The ideas are to simplify and make the service more reliable and more efficient, and provide better connections,” Guptill explained.

Another concern is some communities’ lack of ticket vending machines, and people have to pay a higher price in cash. “There’s very few along the Fairmount Line,” said Mela Miles, the chair of the Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition. The price differences between cash and CharlieCard are a 30 cent upcharge on the bus and 50 cents more on the train.

“MBTA has said nothing about removing that surcharge,” she said, addressing the unfairness to some people live in certain regions.

Some residents also worry if low-income families and students can afford the increased price. Gloria West, VIP coordinator of Project Right, which promotes involvement in neighborhood stabilization and economic development, said “it’s humiliating” if a child doesn’t have enough money to put in the car. The increased prices would add up the burden for low-wage families.

West also raised questions about the new payment system, worrying the possible impacts on students and youth. The new payment – known as Automated Fare Collection 2.0, which people will be able to tap and board at any door on buses and Green Line trains with a fare card, smartphone, or contactless credit card.

MBTA plans to have inspectors doing fare checks randomly. A person may receive warnings and even a citation if got caught in free rides for too many times. “Do you know the trauma behind issuing a student a citation? That’s like telling them they have to go to court or jail for a misdemeanor,” West said.

MBTA said the adjudication process is still under discussion since the fine levels are written into state law, and it seeks to work with the legislatures to find flexibility regarding those levels. This complicated project is still under development and expected to launch in 2020.

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