MBTA moves ahead with fare system changes

Christian M. Wade, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
·2 min read

Mar. 24—BOSTON — The MBTA plans to implement a new fare system that allows riders to board commuter trains, trolleys and buses with the tap of a credit card or smartphone. But the changes are raising concerns about riders who don't have access to those technologies — or just prefer to use cash.

So the transit agency is planning a massive expansion of sales locations where people can use cash to buy tickets.

"This is an important segment of our ridership, and we wanted to make sure they still have the ability to use our system as we think about how to modernize," Lynsey Heffernan, the T's acting assistant general manager for policy, said during a live-streamed update Tuesday night.

Under the new fare system, which would go into effect over the next three years, cash would no longer be accepted aboard T vehicles, but MBTA officials stress that customers will still be able to use paper money and coins at vending machines to get a ticket.

"We are not eliminating cash on the MBTA," Heffernan said. "We are shifting cash options off-board to allow for faster and more reliable service."

Transit advocates have expressed concerns that doing away with cash fares isn't fair to those without smartphones or credit cards.

T officials say about 1 in 20 riders buy tickets with cash onboard, while a fewer number use kiosks at train stations and on buses to reload their Charlie Cards.

Anna Sangree, the MBTA's equity and sales network analyst, said the T "recognizes that not all riders will have technology access or desire to use the system in this way."

Sangree said the T plans to focus on locating new ticket vending machines in traditionally underserved communities to reach minorities and the elderly.

"These are populations that cannot travel far to get to a sales location," she said during Tuesday's briefing.

Replacing the fare collection system is part of Gov. Charlie Baker's plan to invest $8 billion on modernizing the MBTA following crippling snowstorms in the winter of 2015.

Buses and subway trains will implement the cashless fare system sometime in 2023, according to T officials, followed by the commuter rail in 2024.

Overall, T officials say the new system will reduce fare evasion, boost ridership, speed up the boarding process and reduce the overall cost of operations.

New fare gates would be wider to more easily accommodate passengers with wheelchairs or baby strollers, T officials said.

Buses would be accessible by both doors instead of just the front, which T officials say would speed the boarding process.

"We know that all-door-boarding speeds up our buses dramatically," Heffernan said. "And this way we wouldn't have riders waiting in the rain waiting for someone to put cash into a fare box."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com